The following are all the reviews of Saigon to Jerusalem which I know about. If anyone discovers other reviews, please pass them on to me. Thanks.
* Library Journal
* Vietnam Magazine
* The Jerusalem Post
* Northern California Jewish Bulletin
* VVA [Vietnam Veterans of America] Veteran
* AJL [Association of Jewish Libraries] Newsletter
Although written for an Israeli audience, U.S. readers can appreciate the stories of 18 very different American Jews who served in Vietnam and later emigrated to Israel. Perhaps if Lee, a staff writer at Al Hamishmar newspaper in Israel had expanded the scope to include Jewish veterans of Vietnam who continue to reside in the United States, the study might have had more impact and usefulness for an American audience. The book remains compelling reading nonetheless. The Vietnam War was the most gruesome experience for each of these men — far more dramatic than any they endured while fulfilling their Israeli military obligations. They are all encouraged by the increased awareness of the Vietnam legacy by both Americans and Israelis, although some have deep doubts that the war will ever be truly understood. Recommended for libraries with strong Judaic and/or sociology collections. — Paul Kaplan, Dakota City Library, Eagan, Minnesota.
Nothing better embodies the complex nature of the Vietnam War experience than the multitude of different opinions and perspectives that come from each veteran. The 18 vets interviewed by Eric Lee were no exceptions — each fought a different war, each came away with a different attitude. The one thing that his subjects have in common is that all of them left the United States to live in another country — Israel. And even their reasons for doing that are not alike.
Saigon to Jerusalem presents the Vietnam War from the unprecedented perspective of the Jewish American soldier, sailor and Marine. Contrary to the popular American stereotype of the time (expressed in sardonic references to the National Guard as the “Jewish Army”), tens of thousands of Jews served in Vietnam, and hundreds of their names are intermingled with their Christian comrades on the Wall (Vietnam Veterans Memorial).
The Vietnam War was not necessarily an important influence in the decision of some Jewish veterans to make the aliyah (“ascent”) to Israeli citizenship, but their experience did follow them there and influenced their opinions of the Israeli armed forces and of Israel’s 1982-1985 incursion into southern Lebanon, in which many of them participated. Many of the American-Israelis still feel that their experiences in Vietnam set them apart.
One does not have to be Jewish to be fascinated by Saigon to Jerusalem. Posing a variety of questions, Israeli author Eric Lee let the veterans do the talking and then recorded their insights in his book without editing or amendment. The result is a significant presentation of the Vietnam conflict from a rare perspective — one that may shed fresh light on any veteran’s way of regarding his own wartime experiences. — Jon Guttman.
The Jerusalem Post
Eric Lee’s book also deals with Jewish survivors but of a different sort. The 18 he interviewed were all American-born Vietnam War veterans, who were fortunate enough not to have been among the 60,000 U.S. servicemen killed in that conflict. This book also differs from hundreds of others about the Vietnam War in that this one deals not only with the experiences, views and feelings of young Jewish men who fought it, but with a group of individuals who never knew each other yet each independently made the decision to make aliya.
Why did they come here? Most of them said they came mainly because of the way they were received by their fellow Americans after returning from “Nam”. That the Middle East might prove to be an equally dangerous area did not deter them, and some even welcomed the opportunity to don a new uniform and hone their military skills against Israel’s enemies. Some who fought in the Lebanon War describe the similarities between it and Vietnam, particularly with regard to the terrain, the character of the enemy and how the home front influenced the war. Surprisingly, even with hindsight, most of those interviewed here justify American involvement in Vietnam and blame the politicians for preventing the military from winning the war.
In addition to the harsh conditions, atrocities committed by both sides (which are sometimes described in gory detail), problems of discipline, widespread use of drugs and the usual army gripes, some of those interviewed experienced antisemitism, especially by black soldiers, and even in combat zones. Others, however, did not experience any such prejudice, either in Vietnam or stateside. They did not make an effort to seek out other Jews; it was only on rare occasions, such as a religious retreat, run by a Jewish chaplain, that one would meet other Jews.
Some Jews refused to leave their units for Jewish occasions for fear that this might cause resentment. Others let observances slie in their hostile surroundings. Michael, one of the veterans, said he could not pray in the filthy environment of Vietnam, and Arthur, who usually fasted on Yom Kippur, decided to skip the fast during his year of combat. Yet there were a few from religious backgrounds who tried to keep up their observances despite the difficult conditions. Israel Hartman, who had served as a chaplain’s assistant, tells the story of how one year, all 1,500 kosher dinners for the Passover seder were stolen by the locals, and how a three-star Jewish general stationed in Vietnam helped speed up a replacement shipment.
Though Lee’s book is interesting, it could have probed more deeply into the reasons for the veterans’ aliya and how their family and friends reacted to their decision. — Joshua J. Adler
AJL [Association of Jewish Libraries] Newsletter
As the author himself states, thousands of books were written about Vietnam War veterans, but this book is unique because it deals with Jewish Vietnam veterans who, at present, live in Israel. The book presents conversations with eighteen such veterans. The author, a journalist, lets them speak in their own words. This gives the book great authenticity but detracts from achieving deeper insight into the special problems of the subject. The author makes no effort to analyze the answers. He leaves this task to the reader.
The topic of the conversations of the first three chapters is in no way unique, and could have been applied to many other non-Jewish Vietnam veterans. It is the last four chapters that address themselves to the unique situation of this group of veterans. By sifting through their words, the reader tries to decipher whether and to what extent did their experience in Vietnam have an influence on their decision to leave the United States behind them and go to live in Israel. How did they adjust to the daily life in Israel? How much did their Vietnam experience influence their attitude towards their new homeland, towards the Israeli army in which they now serve?
This group of veterans is too small a sample to allow us to draw any general conclusions concerning the whole matter of the Jewish Vietnam War veterans, but it makes an interesting point, and is very readable.
The book is a welcome addition to libraries collecting American Jewish historical and sociological material. — Bracha Weisbarth
VVA [Vietnam Veterans of America] Veteran
Eric Lee’s Saigon to Jerusalem is a mostly oral history of 18 Vietnam veterans who emigrated to Israel. “There have been no oral histories or (to my knowledge) books of any kind abuot Jewish veterans” of Vietnam, Lee writes in his introduction. Lee, who lives on a kibbutz and came of draft age in 1973, estimates that “tens of thousands of Jews served in Vietnam” and that “hundreds” of Jewish soldiers died over there. Lee lets his chosen vets — including a former tunnel rate, a LRRP and a physician — tell their war stories as well as their reasons for leaving the U.S. and migrating to Israel.
Northern California Jewish Bulletin
December 3, 1993
There are literally hundreds of books about the Vietnam War, and many of them chronicle the profound disappointment of those who were alternately reviled and ignored after coming home.
In Saigon to Jerusalem: Conversations With U.S. Veterans of the Vietnam War Who Emigrated to Israel, Israeli journalist Eric Lee focuses on veterans who made their permanent homes in Israel rather than live in the United States as pariahs.
Lee interviewed 18 men, who tell their stories in their own words, organized by the author into sections of interest — from drug use, to keeping kosher in the Army, to anti-Semitism among soldiers.
The interviewees, who either moved to the Jewish state directly from Vietnam or made aliyah later on, come from different geographic background and have varying degrees of commitment to Judaism. Their religious obsrvance in Vietnam was, not surprisingly, minimal.
Michael Chai, who served as a cable-splicing specialist, sums up the feelings of most of the soldiers by saying, “It was my right to attend services on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. In that environment, I couldn’t, I just couldn’t. Services to me were always something clean and pleasant, and in an environment like Vietnam, I just couldn’t pray at all.”
One former “tunnel rat” for the Marines, Samuel Hilburg, recalls a particularly gruesome “holiday” custom.
“Around Chanukah time, we were around some village,” he relates. “So the first night they lit up one building. And the second night they lit up two. And on the eighth night, we burned down the village.”
Even the good times recalled in the book are tinged with sadness and the realization that the war was not about to end soon, even during a Passover seder remembered by Israel Hartman, who served as a chaplain’s assistant.
“Every year the chaplains changed over and the assistants changed over, but this was done every year. And it was arranged in the same auditorium in Saigon. Naturally when I came there I saw the notes that the predecessors had left for me . . . so that we could all learn from them.”
Lee’s commentary on the veterans’ recollections is mercifully brief, allowing them to tell their stories in their own words. The technique works particularly well toward the end of the book, when the soldiers explain why they left the United States for Israel. Their disillusionment is best expressed by former Marine David Ramati, who is now living in Kiryat Arba.
“Look, we never left America, America left us,” says Ramati. “We never stopped loving America; America stopped loving us . . . We fought and died and bled for America, and we were rejected by America.”
In Israel, these men found a place where they were respected for their combat experiences, rather than challenged on their morality.
Dov Ben Galil, now a member of Kibbutz Yiron and a former member of military intelligence, feels more comfortable in Israel. “I think that Israelis realize that America chose to fight a war that it wasn’t equipped for,” he says. “It chose to fight a non-conventional war with a conventional army.”
The story of these veterans is highly readable, even for non-Vietnam War buffs. It is augmented by a timeline and glossary that helps decipher terms and put events in context, as well as a first rate narrative. Lee brings out the similarities between the veterans’ experiences with an economy of words and well-chosen quotes that detail their lives without being pedantic or textbookish. — Stacey Elise Torman