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Chris Melnick

Chris Melnick: Reads & Watches

By Chris Melnick, March 1, 2023

[Editor's note: Chris Melnick is the Executive Director of Share the Magic Book Program, which is a federally registered charity that distributes books, from books for babies to adults, fiction and non-fiction to underserved communities in Manitoba.  To date, Share the Magic has given away over 630,000 books at an estimated value of over $4.2 million. You can follow Share the Magic on Facebook by searching "Share the Magic Book Program"]

Hoping March will come in like a lion and leave like a lamb, I have two good reads to recommend, whatever the weather to end the winter.


        Red Sea Spies: The True story of Mossad’s fake diving resort by Raffi Berg tells the true life story of the Mossad’s rescue of thousands of Ethiopian Jews, from refugee camps in Sudan, in which they had been languishing for years and their relocation to the land of Israel.  The tool for this great initiative was a diving resort named Arous Village, set-up by the Mossad in the early 1980’s, on the Sudanese coast of the Red Sea.  All elements of the real resort were seen to, including beautiful glossy pamphlets that attracted divers from around the world.  Daytime offered a real resort. Night, under the cover of darkness, provided the protection needed to move these people, housed in a location some 900km away from the resort via Zodiac dingy to a waiting Israeli ship and finally to safety in Israel. The mode of transportation was changed to Hercules aircraft, as it provided a safer environment than the open sea.  Finding safe Sudanese landing sites proved a challenge indeed!


        When famine was declared in Sudan in late 1984 and the U.S. government offered a large payment, the then Sudanese government allowed the Jewish refugees to be flown out of the country.  In all, 6,872 refugees were allowed to go to Israel. 


        Shortly after, the combination of the story of the resort becoming public and a change of government in Sudan, lead to the resort being shut down.  Over the next six years almost 18,000 Ethiopian Jews would be freed from those dreadful refugee camps to find a new home in the Jewish state.


        This book is very well written, delving into the politics of the region, the reason the Ethiopian Jews left their original country and every step of their journey to Israel.  I found myself quite tense while reading it for both the Ethiopians and the Mossad agents alike.  Incidentally, the leader of this initiative eventually became the head of the Mossad.


        This book raises the often-asked question: “Who is the Mossad?”  Maybe you are the Mossad.  Maybe they are the Mossad.  Maybe I am the Mossad!


        Red Sea Spies:  The True story of Mossad’s fake diving resort is available at the Winnipeg Public Library in the following format only:


Book:  327.125694 BERG 2020  


     It is also available at the Kaufman Silverberg Library in the following format:


Book: Z 953.5 BERG


        The initiative became the focus of a Netflix film entitled “Red Sea Diving Resort”, which unfortunately is not available at either libraries. 



        The second title in this column is The Mathematician’s Shiva by Stuart Rojstaczer.  I COULD NOT put this book down.  It invites you in right from the first paragraph to enjoy Alexander “Sasha” Karnokovitch’s telling of his mother’s life, who as it happens is the world’s best mathematician, the mother I mean.  From her beginning in Poland, to the shores of the Barent’s Sea, where she was saved by a brown bear and discovered her mathematical passion, to her successful academic career and the possible solving of the most difficult mathematical problem of her age, the solution of which she takes to her grave.  But it is much more than that – it is a tale of searching for answers.  Be it the numerous mathematicians who come to the shiva looking for clues to the answer of the math question or of Sasha’s own searching for happiness, meaning and the effect his mother had on his life.  Presented in a lively and humorous way, this is a book that leaves you entertained and asking the unending question of, hmmmm, just what could the infamous answer to the math question be and why take it to your grave?


        In 2015, Rojstaczer won the 2014 National Jewish Book Award for Outstanding Debut Fiction for "The Mathematician's Shiva"   The novel was shortlisted for the Ribalow Prize.


        The Mathematician’s shiva is available at the Winnipeg Public Library in the following format:


Book: Fiction Rojstaczer


        It is also available at the Kaufman Silverberg Library in the following format


Book:  Z FIC ROJ




And now for this month’s Yiddish Proverb


Az me ken nit vi me vil, tut men vi me ken.


If you can’t do as you wish, do as you can.

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.