“The reader will come away with a much better understanding of the complexities of living in a true melting pot” — Phil Markwardt, Executive Director of Operation Exodus USA

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Three Israeli boys from very different cultural backgrounds have one thing in common: dreams of winning the World Cup.

First Among Nations: A Novel about Struggle and Perseverance in the Holy Land by Ira Mosen (Olive Blossom Press) is an uplifting story about overcoming differences and recognizing the bonds that unite all humanity. Details of the boys’ lives and religious customs bring to life the reality of a region torn apart by wars, prejudice and seemingly unattainable goals.

Zar grows up in a strict Hasidic Jewish family in an Ultra-Orthodox village near Jerusalem. His mother prays that his obsession with soccer will one day be matched by his devotion to God.

Egel is born on a lush Israeli kibbutz surrounded by hostile Arab neighbors. His family never forgets the Holocaust and their memories of anti-Semitism in Germany. 

Hajji is a Muslim-Israeli who was born in Mecca after his devout parents made a pilgrimage from their village near the Palestinian border, fulfilling one of the pillars of Islam. His name translates as “pilgrim.” The boys’ journey could surely be described as a pilgrimage of grand proportions. 

SOCCER AND THE SABBATH?

From a young age, Zar only wants to play soccer, practicing in the alley by himself when he is grounded (and being such a mischievous boy, he frequently had reason to be grounded). After Zar is accepted into the Israeli National Youth Soccer League, he feels guilty for playing in the games and taking the bus on the Sabbath. He worries that his long sidelocks make him look too different: but one day, they will be his trademark.

Egel is an easy-going, carefree boy, with many friends and would-be girlfriends. An excellent soccer player, he becomes one of the youngest ever to join the Israeli National Youth Soccer League. By the time he reaches high school, he’s being scouted by coaches for professional Israeli soccer clubs. 

Hajji, a talented goalkeeper, is also determined to play in the youth league. He tries out for a traditional Arab club, but the goalkeeper position is already taken. Instead, he is accepted by a Jewish team that already has several Arab players. Some in his village view him as a traitor, but they all can’t help but recognize his skills.

WELL MATCHED TO BREAK DOWN BARRIERS

After Zar and Egel play against each other in a soccer match (Zar’s team taking the prize), they congratulate each other and quickly recognize that they have the same dream: winning the National Championship. Actually, “‘Why stop there?’ quipped Zar. Who knows? Maybe we could win the World Cup.”

Next, over the strong objections of his parents, Zar joins the Israeli armybut chooses an infantry unit with a commander obsessed with soccer who believes the game gives his soldiers cohesion and focus. Zar soon discovers that Egel has joined the same unit. Hajji, meanwhile, is accepted by a professional Israeli club.

The story of their journey to become teammates on the Israeli National Football Team, with diversions for romantic interludes, builds to an exciting crescendo. As the three play matches throughout Europe on their way to the championship game in Munich, they experience anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism and riots, but their support for each other overcomes all. If we all played on the same team, couldn’t we all get along?

Readers seeking a well-written book with fluid prose and appealing characters will also find much insight and inspiration in First Among Nations.

Buy this book!

About Ira Mosen:

Ira Mosen, MD is a physician who is also an avid reader. He was born and raised on the East Coast and received his medical training in an Ivy League institution. Once he completed his residency and fellowship, he joined a successful private medical practice in the Midwest. After working there for nearly 15 years, he fulfilled his lifelong dream and moved with his family to Israel in 2018. Dr. Mosen currently works at a health clinic in central Israel that provides high-quality medical care to Israelis of all backgrounds and religions at a low cost. 

Through his interactions with a diverse population of Israelis, he has observed an Israel that is markedly different from the one often portrayed in the media, with much grassroots desire for peaceful coexistence. The country’s tolerant, multi-cultural society inspired him to write his debut novel, First Among Nations.