The Kibbitzer Books


A Liberal Life Under Apartheid

“Jock Isacowitz stands tall among those Jews who confronted racism and inequality in mid-twentieth century South Africa. Principled, thoughtful, brave and deeply committed to justice, his life demonstrates the possibility of balancing the unique and the universal. An admirable study, written with both warmth and detachment.”

Professor Milton Shain, Emeritus Professor of Historical Studies, University of Cape Town

“Driven by a deep-rooted concern for social justice, Jock Isacowitz was a guiding light in progressive mid-20th century South African organisations whose history bears retelling: the Springbok Legion, Torch Commando and Liberal Party. He played a critical role in radicalising the Liberal Party, thereby helping to broaden the scope of liberalism in apartheid South Africa. This compelling book —which straddles biography, memoir and political history — tells Isacowitz’s fascinating story with warmth, wit and insight.”

Michael Cardo MP, author of Opening Men’s Eyes

““The real challenge facing Roy Isacowitz is having to reconstruct his father from a fragmented archive, a contested historiography, and memories of past struggle blurred by the less noble, more complex and messy present. Isacowitz Jr and Snr are fascinating guides on that journey... This book is a beautifully written guide to the period (and beyond), because it's central character died unexpectedly young, leaving a personal, psychological and political space that this book fills. ”

David Everatt, Head of the Wits School of Governance and Chairperson of the South African Statistics Council




The Strange Adventures of Remarkable Jews in Contemporary Israel

“The book's a biting satire. In the finest Jewish tradition - Lenny Bruce and Mordecai Richler spring to mind - Isacowitz mocks much that is pretentious among (us) Jews and Israelis, by taking a very unromantic look at how certain remarkable Jews would fare in modern Israel.”

Jeremy Gordin, author of Zuma: A Biography

Moses, Jesus, Freud, Anne Frank, Trostky, Bugsy Siegel and other famous Jews are in contemporary Israel. Spinoza heads the philosophy department at Ariel University; Ethel Rosenberg addresses a meeting of the Chabad Woman's Group; Dreyfus is on trial for treason; Anne Frank meets young Israelis whose Holocaust experience seems to be a lot more real than her own.

Some things never change - Jesus is still trying to persuade Jews that he's the Messiah and Josephus is publishing a new edition of his book The Wars of the Jews - while other things have changed dramatically. Could it be that Kafka immigrated to Israel after the war and wrote books that were never published under an assumed name? Or that Shabtai Tzvi has been reduced to running Nigerian scams? And then, of course, there's God. Is he entirely happy with what is being done in his name in modern-day Israel? Does he even care?

By inserting historical Jews with giant reputations into the nitty-gritty of contemporary Israel, Roy Isacowitz both challenges preconceptions and questions the nature of the reborn homeland. It's not only the visitors who are changed when they encounter Israel but the Israelis too. It's one thing idealizing the prophet Moses, but is he really the sort of guy you want to be the sandak (godfather) at your grandson's bris? In many senses, the Jews from history are straw men and women whose contact with modern Israelis exposes myths and highlights fallacies.

These are witty, weird and wonderful stories. Some are hilarious, others jarring and yet others illuminating, like having new connections established in the synapses of the brain with a sizzle and whiff of cordite. We all think we know Israel, but do we really? These offbeat meetings between legendary Jews and their contemporary heirs highlight how little we really know.