“The Sword of David” by Charles Lichtman. New York: Post Hill Press, 2021. 356 pages. $30.
What great fun! “The Sword of David” is the “Raiders of the Lost Ark” — one of my favorite movies — Jewish style. Instead of Harrison Ford playing Indiana Jones, a swashbuckling archaeologist, we have Chaim Klein, a member of an elite Israeli army unit dedicated to battling terrorists.
Klein goes into an underground tunnel and castigates God, whose existence Klein questions, for not stopping the murder of the innocents here on earth. Now there’s a Jewish hero for you — strong, brave, but also reflective.
Instead of doing battle with somewhat unbelievable Nazis as Professor Jones did, Klein fights Muslim terrorists.
The valiant Israelis do battle with them seemingly on every page, usually thwarting their evil plans, albeit at a great cost. As in real life, some of the most sympathetic characters are cut down fighting for their country and people.
And it all takes places as Chaim Klein tries to find the Ten Commandments after miraculously discovering the legendary Ark of the Covenant. During his and his comrades’ search, they discover the Sword of David, whose God-ordained powers are unveiled by Klein, convincing him and others that he is the long-awaited general of the Sons of Light, which he is destined to lead in its apocalyptic struggle against the forces of evil.
“The Sword of David” ends on a spectacularly hopeful note.
As I said, a pleasurable, if not always realistic, romp through the Jewish state’s never-ending war with those who wish her harm and Israel’s hopes for peace.
I found two mistakes. Although one was relatively minor, both tend to erode the book’s optimistic message.
“Istanbul was Professor Yussef Hosnu’s favorite place to visit,” writes author Charles Lichtman. “There he could speak Arabic… .” Sorry, but in Istanbul, people speak Turkish, not Arabic.
The other error, although seemingly insignificant, is actually glaring. Klein and another elite Israeli soldier pay their respects to a colleague who had been killed by terrorists.
They recite Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead, beginning: “Yizgadal v’yizkadash.” Israeli soldiers would say the prayer in modern Hebrew, “Yitgadal v’yitkadash.”
The only Israelis who would use the “z” sound instead of the “t” are black-coat-wearing members of the haredi Orthodox community.
It may appear that the difference between the two letters is trivial, but for those who understand Israel, it represents a vast, unbridgeable chasm. Not only are haredi Jews never found in elite Israeli army units, they generally do not serve in the IDF.
I found this to be unsettling, even jarring.
But all is forgiven, because the theme of the book, which permeates every page, is one I find so intellectually and spiritually compelling: the unity of the Abrahamic religions.
Christians, Muslims and Jews are all spiritual descendants of Abraham — Avraham Avinu (our father Abraham). That makes us, in a sense, brothers, even if members of the three faiths often don’t act that way toward each other.
Nonetheless, I believe the spirit of that idea is mankind’s best hope for peace.
Aaron Leibel’s memoir, “Figs and Alligators: An American Immigrants’s Life in Israel in the 1970s and 1980s” (Chickadee Prince Books), is available for purchase online.