Mo (mofic) wrote,

Recent Reading: The 188th Crybaby Brigade by Joel Chasnoff

The full title of this books is The 188th Crybaby Brigade: a Skinny Jewish Kid from Chicago Fights Hezbollah -- a Memoir. The author is an aspiring stand-up comedian who, at age 24 and with his career not going anywhere, immigrated to Israel and joined the army there. His book chronicles his experiences in a mostly humorous way. It's often truly laugh-out-loud funny but he's also got some serious things to say.

It's a very quick read and an enjoyable one. It will feel familiar to anyone Jewish or with knowledge of Israel, but I think it's quite accessible even without that, as he only seems to assume knowledge of American culture. A blurb on the back of the book calls it a "Jewish Jarhead." I never read Jarhead so I wouldn't know but what I found it most reminiscent of was Catch-22. Although it's a memoir and Heller's book was a novel, 188th Crybaby Brigade has the same sort of Weltanschuuang - a kind of bemused, humorous take on the crazy things that happen in the military, with an underlying seriousness.

Chasnoff has a very funny way of writing and his stories are well told and often truly comic, but he has interesting insights as well: into American Jewish culture, Israeli culture, army culture. He does not hold back on criticism of the Israeli military or the larger society, but the criticism comes from a place of love.

His major theme is that the main problem with Israel's armed forces is that the military is run by adolescents and very young adults. At 24 he is older than the other soldiers, older than the drill sergeants, older than the officers. He keeps wondering when the grown ups are going to show up. So many of the mistakes that are made are those that he argues could have been avoided if someone with some maturity were involved.

Chasnoff also has interesting things to say about how the army experience affects Israeli culture. With the army as a shared universal experience and one coming at a pivotal point in a young adult's life, he makes a good case for it shaping the Israeli character, for better and for worse.

Other topics the author covers, with humor and insight, include: race relations in Israel, differences (and similarities) in Jewish religious expression between the US and Israel, military ethics, sex roles and sexism in the army, and attitudes about the Holocaust. There are a lot of deep and serious insights in this volume. At the same time I dare you to go three pages without laughing.

I got it at my library. (Doran's reading it now, but I'll return it soon). I'm sure it's at yours, too.

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