Reviews of The Lonely Tree in Other Media

Reviewed by Gillian Polack

The Lonely Tree follows the path of Tonia, whose father fervently follows the kibbutz ideal in the 1930s when even breathing is difficult if one is Jewish. It takes Tonia’s life through until the 1950s where Tonia finds that hard compromises are sometimes the best way forward.

I found The Lonely Tree very hard to read. It was not the writing. This is purely personal. I am Australian and Jewish. Since my formative years I’ve known people who had tried the kibbutz life in its early stages, who would have known people like Tonia and her family.  Some of these people adored it, some tried it and failed, and all of them had come to Australia and told our communities about the life, and the politics and especially about that period from the 1930s until the late 1940s. Every word of The Lonely Tree reminded me of these stories, of people I knew and some who I still know and how lucky we all felt to be Jewish and alive in the 1960s. It wasn’t the joy of the sixties we were celebrating: it was not being dead. This theme is the underlying one throughout The Lonely Tree, that some times are particularly hard, that some people are never safe, and that only sometimes does the wider world care.

I still find it a matter of wonder that a Jewish child in a country as safe and prosperous as Australia should grow up feeling as if the world grudged her life. The Lonely Tree reminds me why this was so—it’s easy to forget that the anti-Semitism in the 1930s and the 1940s was worse than other anti-Semitism by an impossible amount and that being Jewish meant needing an escape route prepared, at any time. Those who didn’t have escape routes usually died.

In Australia we had emotional escape routes: the worst things that happened to us were stones thrown and graves desecrated and names called. But we heard stories and we saw scars and we grew up with a generation of people our parents’ age who wore long sleeves to hide numbers and of whom we were instructed to never, ever ask questions about their childhood and youth.

The Lonely Tree is a breath of fresh air, because it tells all this clearly. This novel takes me back and reminds me under what a shocking pall many Jewish communities lived in the twentieth century and that these communities were the lucky ones, for they survived. We were always reminded that we were the luckiest of the lucky in Australia, for survival wasn’t even an issue. Name-calling and grave desecration are nothing. We all knew that.

This is why The Lonely Tree was intensely difficult for me to read: it reminded me of my childhood and knowing things about others that really, no child should know. In the 1970s, when people were calling Australia “the Lucky Country,” we knew that the luck ran far deeper for us than for others, for we know what Tonia’s family in The Lonely Tree discovered, that dead people are not mere numbers to those who knew them—they are parents and cousins and schoolmates—and that when they are dead, they are gone forever.

This isn’t all the book is about. The Lonely Tree is the story of a young girl’s life as she grows up in difficult times and discovers who she is as she weaves her way through those difficult times. It’s political and occasionally polemical, but it has a lot of heart.

How Tonia and the people she meets deal with the hatred, however, is the aspect that caught me, because it reminded me of going to primary school and wondering why other children didn’t understand these things. A few years later and Australia had a new wave of war refugees and they had their killing fields and their particular nightmares and their cousins who came out a century earlier were in the position I was in. War and hatred are evil cycles. They hurt far too many people.


The Jewish Tribune – Toronto, Wednesday, 14 July 2010
Reviewed by Atara Beck

TORONTO-PARDES HANNA Israel – The Lonely Tree, movingly written by rising author Yael Politis, is an important contribution to Jewish and Zionist literature. A work of fiction, it tells the history of Kfar Etzion – a kibbutz in the Etzion Bloc (Gush Etzion, in Hebrew) – in the Judean Hills, between Jerusalem and Hebron. Initially built in the 1920s, it was destroyed after Israel’s War of Independence and subsequently rebuilt after the land was liberated in 1967.

Because of its strategically important location, the area is also known as the southern gateway to Jerusalem.

After the Six Day War, the return to Gush Etzion (the Etzion Bloc) was led by many orphans whose fathers had been killed defending it two decades earlier.

The Gush, as it is commonly known, originally included four kibbutzim (communal settlements). Today it boasts 18 communities and a population of about 40,000. Replete with biblical history, it is considered by many to be, along with Jerusalem, the heart and soul of the Jewish state.

Not only did Politis create a captivating romantic tale, but she also succeeded in capturing the heart and soul of the Gush.

“When I came to live in Israel in 1973, one of the first places I lived was Kibbutz Ein Tzurim,” Politis told the Jewish Tribune. “The kibbutz was originally part of the Etzion Bloc…but after the fall of the Etzion Bloc, Ein Tzurim was re-established at its current location, between Ashkelon and Kiryat Malachi [in southern Israel]. Almost every home in Ein Tzurim had books, pictures, letters…regarding the siege and fall of the Etzion Bloc. Many of its members had been in the original kibbutz, taken part in the battles, and been released from captivity in Jordan. So this was how I came to be well-aqcuainted with the events there.

“Years later I began writing fiction,” she explained. “By that time I was living in Neve Dekalim in the Gush Katif bloc of settlements in the Gaza Strip. Neve Dekalim was very near the large Arab city of Khan Yunis, with which we once had friendly enough relations. I can remember taking my children there to buy shoes, a thought that is surreal today. But the first Intifada had begun and a Jew could no longer venture into Khan Yunis and expect to come back alive. I could hear the rioting there, but I felt safe,

knowing the IDF was there to protect us. That was when it really sunk in – how Israel’s pioneers had gone to live in places like Neve Dekalim, or Kfar Etzion, with no Israeli army to protect them – just some young kids with hardly any weapons and ammunition. I found it hard to imagine what that would have been like, and that was when I started thinking of trying to tell the story of Kfar Etzion. I didn’t want to write a history lesson, however, and so made the events in Kfar Etzion the backdrop for a love story.”

The characters in the novel – all passionate – reflect political diversity.

At one point, arguing the merits of founding a kibbutz in the Judean hills, with its tough living conditions and fallow land, Joseph declared: “Our forefathers lived mainly in the hill regions. Before the destruction of the Second Temple, there were three or four million Jews in Eretz Israel, most of them in the Judean Hills, Samaria and the hills of Galilee….

“Judea is the heart of Eretz Israel…. I don’t believe David and Solomon ever had the pleasure of a visit to Tel Aviv.”

According to Politis, Joseph is “an accurate reflection of the views of most of Israel’s pioneers. Whether or not they were observant Jews, they knew their Scriptures. His views regarding Judea and Samaria having been the heartland of the original kingdom of Israel are, of course, simple fact.”

Although there is no lack of history books, Politis believes there should be more fictional works and films to reach a wider audience. “There are many stories as compelling as that of Kfar Etzion, and I hope they will be told.”


Reviewed by Ruth H

This is the story of Tonia Shulman, a young Jewish girl growing up on the Kfar Etzion Kibbutz,, in Jerusalem, British Mandate Palestine.

The story starts in 1946, and we meet Tonia, her brother and sister Rina and Natan, and her parents Leah and Josef.  Her father is one of the men who helped found the kibbutz, and his passion for establishing a Labour Zionist movement means that he is often absent from family life.  While the rest of the family will follow their father fairly willingly, Tonia dreams of escape to America, where she can have her own house and freedom from persecution.  When Tonia meets Amos Amrani, they are instantly drawn to one another, but Amos is a member of an underground Jewish movement, which her father detests.

We follow Tonia throughout her life and witness her making some important and difficult decisions, and never letting go of her ambition to move to America.  But even if she fulfils her dream, will it really make her happy?  She truly wants to be with Amos, but will their moment ever come?

I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  Initially I wondered if it would be slightly hard going, but in fact I flew through it.  I loved the character of Tonia, who was so determined and clever, and who loved her own family so much, but felt conflicted between what they wanted for her and what she wanted for herself.  Yael Politis has created an entirely believable heroine, who I warmed to and grew to care for.  I couldn’t always agree with some of the choices Tonia made, but in her position, who is to know what any of us would do?  The rest of her family were all very well fleshed out; I particularly liked her mother and sister.

Amos was a complex character.  He was intelligent and brave, and sometimes very arrogant, which almost made me dislike him at times.  It was refreshing to see two people in a story who felt so much for each other, but yet realised that there were aspects of each other that they didn’t necessarily like.  This is no ‘hearts and flowers’ love story, and it is all the better for it.

There is a section of the book which describes in vivid and painful detail the real life siege of the Kfar Etzion Kibbutz.  The anguish and fear felt by the men left on the kibbutz to fight was so well depicted, and I found that part particularly moving.

The effects of the wars and turbulent time are felt by all, and the reader is privy not just to its effects on Tonia and Amos, but also their families.

The writing is very eloquent and the story flowed beautifully.  The narrative is moving, with humour and pathos and is also very informative about a specific part of Jewish history.

I would highly recommend this book


Ezine @rticles
Reviewed by Elma M. Schemenauer

“The book is well written, with evocative descriptions, gripping action, well-realized characters, and authentic appeals to the emotions.”
Article Source:


Gold Dust Magazine
Reviewed by David Gardener
Issue 17 Summer 2010  Pages 36-37

“Politis’ style is restrained, economical and mostly understated. She is a remarkably unobtrusive author. I believe that you will find not a single dull paragraph in this entire work. It is a gripping insight into the psyche of several different kinds of person, a vivid account of the forces that drive both human idealism and human destructiveness.”

For a PDF of the article, click here: Gold Dust Issue 17 pp.36-37


Curious Book Fans
Reviewed by sunmeilan

“The author’s writing style is excellent, it flows well and tells the story in such a way that it is immediately interesting … Yael Politis is an excellent author who really knows how to make a story readable, this is a book that everyone should read at some point.”

Click here for a PDF of the review:  Curious Book Fans Review


Mother Daughter Book Club

“The Lonely Tree by Yael Politis is a sweeping tale set against the Jewish settlement of Palestine and the establishment of a Jewish state … This book is a great one for mother-daughter book clubs with girls aged 15 and older to choose, particularly if they are interested in historical fiction and more specifically the history of the modern state of Israel.”


Aaron in Jerusalem
(Beware that this review gives away the entire story, so if you plan on reading The Lonely Tree better wait until after you’ve finished to see what Aaron has to say.)
Reviewed by Aaron Hecht

“Often sad, sometimes funny and always melancholy (making it a good metaphor for the Israeli life it depicts), “The Lonely Tree” by Yael Politis is the story of the first generation of Israelis, a stereotypical (in a good way) love story between Jews from vastly different ethnic backgrounds … It is also a story about the importance of family  …  a badly needed reminder in our increasingly secular, disconnected world.”


The Jewish Telegraph of Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool, and Glasgow
Profile by Doreen Wachmann

jewish telegraph1

This is a profile of me rather than a book review. To view it select PROFILE from the menu on the right-side of the page, and then select the item beginning “Yael’s life…” on the left-hand side.

Yael Politis, who has just published her first novel on an extremely pro-Zionist theme, was born non-Jewish in a Michigan town with no Jewish residents or Israel connection.

Yael, who changed her name from Janet Lewis when she converted to Judaism on an Israeli religious kibbutz, first heard about the Jewish state when she saw the film Exodus.

She said: “When the movie came out, my family got dressed up to see it. I must have been about 11 or 12 at the time.

“I wasn’t really in the mood for a long movie about the Bible, as I thought from its name.

“But I was extremely moved by the film. Before seeing it, I don’t know if I could have told you what a Jew was. When we got home I began reading the book, which had even more of an effect.

“Around the same time, the Eichmann trial was taking place in Israel and I read every book about Israel that I could get my hands on.”

She continued: ” When I went to Ann Arbor University, Michigan, I wanted to learn Hebrew.

“But at Ann Arbor they only had a basic course on simple transliterated conservation, which did not even teach the Hebrew letters.

“So I transferred to Wisconsin University where there were was a very large number of Jewish students, as well as lots of Israelis, studying for doctorates.”

While there, her roommate who was constantly hearing Janet – as she was then – going on about Israel, saw an advert in a student journal for a summer trip on kibbutz and advised her to try it out.

She spent her summer with other, as she terms, “spoilt American kids” working in beautiful apricot orchards and chicken runs, in between the constant trips that the students took.

Janet found the latter more strenuous than the former.

She said: “Climbing Masada at at 4am and then going on a long trek before a swim was harder than the work.”

Nevertheless, the experience pleased Janet so much that after majoring in semitic languages and archaeology in Wisconsin, in 1973 she moved to Israel, initially staying in Kibbutz Regavim, near Pardes Hanna.

She loved the “quiet, green, peaceful” area which she describes as the “Tuscany of Israel” and today has opted to buy a house in Pardes Hanna because of her love of its surroundings. Yael’s debut novel, The Lonely Tree, describes her heroine Tonia’s love-hate – more hate than love – relationship with the kibbutz in which she spent her teenage years.

Yael has now put kibbutz life well behind her, but in 1973 she found its tight-knit social cohesion ideal for a non-Jewish American settling in the land of her dreams.

She said: “It was perfect for someone moving to a completely foreign country.

“But I never wanted to live permanently on kibbutz.”

But Janet soon realised that if she wanted to really integrate into Israeli society she needed to convert to Judaism. So she moved to the religious kibbutz of Ein Tsurim, near Ashkelon.

She was fortunate to be the first convert approved by the kibbutz’s Beth Din, under the auspices of Rabbi Haim Druckman.

Yael described her conversion process as totally opposite to the horror conversion stories she has since read about. She says: ‘I found it a very pleasant and uplifting experience.

“The only time I had second thoughts was when someone told me that I had to cut off all contact with my non-Jewish family. In a panic, I phoned Rabbi Druckman who assured me that was certainly not the case.

“He said one had to cut oneself off spiritually but still have gratitude and respect towards one’s parents.”

She continued: “When I heard that my conversion was imminent, I again called Rabbi Druckman, scared that I did not yet know everything.

“He replied that as he didn’t yet know everything, I wasn’t expected to know everything, that it was my kevana (intention) which was important.”

Besides becoming Jewish at Ein Tsurim, the religious kibbutz became the inspiration for Yael’s novel The Lonely Tree, which is centred on the true story of Kibbutz Etzion, many of whose residents were massacred by the Arabs on the day before the State of Israel was declared in 1948.

As Ein Tsurim had been founded in 1949 by those who had managed to flee the Gush Etzion massacre, every home there when Yael arrived in 1973 was full of books and memories of the atrocity.

Once again, as with Exodus, Yael was gripped by the pathos of the drama.

She says: “It was an incredible story of struggle, surrender and longing, followed by a return in 1967 when the children of survivors came back to visit the site.” Discovering that no one had yet turned the incredible tale into fiction, Yael resolved to do so herself, creating a fictional family of principle characters whose lives are shaped by the tragic events.

The novel stayed for decades in her desk drawer as Yael married and moved to Neve Dekalim in the Gaza Strip, where she gave birth to her two children – son Tal and daughter Ella Elbaz, who currently lives in London’s South Hampstead.

Yael has four grandchildren but is now divorced and lives in Pardes Hanna.

The novel eventually won a Book of the Year award from YouWriteOn and has now been published by Holland Park Press (£14.99).

Yael was particularly keen to publish the novel after her experience of living in the Gaza Strip, which made her empathise with what it had been like for the late 1940s inhabitants of the West Bank Etzion Bloc.

She says: “When we married, the government was encouraging people to live in the territories. We were given the choice of the Golan, Gush Etzion or Gush Katif in Gaza. In the days before the Intifada, Gaza was a different world from what it is now. It was quiet and peaceful.

“I used to go to the Arab city to buy shoes.”

Although Yael left Gaza long before the Israelis evacuated it in 2005, she went back to pay a shiva call to friends in Neve Dekalim as the final blockades were being put up.

She said: “I was in tears. My friends thought it was because of their bereavement. But it was so sad knowing that such a lovely place was going to be destroyed.”

Once again, as with Exodus, Yael was gripped by the pathos of the drama.

She says: “It was an incredible story of struggle, surrender and longing, followed by a return in 1967 when the children of survivors came back to visit the site.” Discovering that no one had yet turned the incredible tale into fiction, Yael resolved to do so herself, creating a fictional family of principle characters whose lives are shaped by the tragic events.

The novel stayed for decades in her desk drawer as Yael married and moved to Neve Dekalim in the Gaza Strip, where she gave birth to her two children – son Tal and daughter Ella Elbaz, who currently lives in London’s South Hampstead.

Yael has four grandchildren but is now divorced and lives in Pardes Hanna.


Library Thing
Reviewed by binadaat (Michal Nancy Karni)

“The Lonely Tree” is good story telling in a historically accurate background.

Over the years I have read numerous novels set in Middle East or about Jews. From Leon Uris’ “Exodus”, John Le Carre’s “Little Drummer Girl”, to Anita Diamant’s “Red Tent” , the author has an agenda. The “fiction” is a vehicle for a political statement. The novel is a polemic.

Yael Politis does something refreshing. She writes a love story with British Mandate Palestine as the backdrop. Palestinian Jews living in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and in the then new Etzion Bloc, south of Bethlehem show the heterogeneous make up of Palestinian Jewry in the 30’s and 40’s: differences in ethnicity, politics and vision for the new Jewish society in the making.

Or not in the making, as in the case of the principle actor in the story. Tonia Shulman is a young girl, living in Tel Aviv with her mother and sibling in a cramped apartment while their idealistic father is working to establish a new kibbutz which is to become their permanent home . All Tonia can dream of is getting out of Palestine and going to America to make her fortune. She wants nothing to do with the Religious Zionist pioneer dream, or any other part of the drive to rebuild the Jewish homeland. Forced to live and work in the kibbutz, she plots her escape for years.

“The Lonely Tree” is a pleasure to read. I highly recommend it.


Life is a Patchwork Quilt
Reviewed by Valeries

“Once I started reading, I was pleasantly surprised that any reservations I had about this book disappeared  …  At 443 pages, I finished this book in a couple days.  This is quite an accomplishment, considering the many distractions of summertime …  I recommend this book if you want to know, in a historical fiction format, more about the setting and time era.  I would recommend this book because of that perspective.  The romantic interest is a nice additional touch. ”

_______________________________________________________________________ Review: The Lonely Tree by Yael Politis
Wednesday, January 26, 2011

love, loss, and a Jewish homeland

I met Yael Politis, author of the novel The Lonely Tree, through the excellent critique group Internet Writers Workshop,

Now that Yael’s first novel has been published, I’m happy to recommend it. It’s a good read for anyone interested in family relationships, courtship, marriage, cultural identity, and/or the birth of the modern state of Israel. Spanning the years 1934 through 1967, it follows Tonia Schulman from Poland; to British Mandate Palestine; to Grand Rapids, Michigan; and back across the ocean to Israel. Tonia is a strong young Jew who uses inventiveness and hard work to try to get what she wants.

Her father, Josef, is as determined as his daughter. Having rescued his family from Nazi atrocities in Poland, his goal is to help establish a new Jewish identity and society in Palestine. To that end he is instrumental in founding a kibbutz in the hill country near Jerusalem. Called Kfar Etzion, the kibbutz is crowded and uncomfortable, with a communal dining hall, water rationing, and work—always lots of work. Tonia hates the place. She’s determined to finish high school, leave Palestine, and make a new life for herself in America.

At the same time, she’s not indifferent to her people’s need to carve out a better future for themselves.

Amos Amrani is more than aware of that need. He’s a handsome young Yemenite Jew who fights in the Jewish underground. His and Tonia’s goals and backgrounds are quite different. Nevertheless they fall in love.

Their budding romance is fraught with fear and danger as the Jews are repeatedly attacked by their Arab neighbors. In the spring of 1948, Arabs lay siege to Tonia’s home, Kfar Etzion. Despite its defenders’ heroic efforts, many of them die and the kibbutz is forced to surrender. Tonia’s father, mumbling prayers, is killed by an exploding grenade. A day later, on May 14, 1948, the British mandate over Palestine expires and the independent State of Israel is declared.

Josef’s long-held dream appears to be coming true, though the citizens of the new State will face many challenges. Will Tonia stay to share them? Not if she can help it. She clings to her determination to reach her promised land, America. She rejects Amos, the love of her life, and enters into a marriage of convenience. Her plan is to use her new husband’s money to establish a restaurant that will earn her enough so she can emigrate. She achieves that goal, pays back the money her husband lent her, and divorces him. Then it’s off to America, where the streets are paved with gold. Sort of.

Tonia arrives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in March 1953. She opens a bakery, buys the kind of house she always dreamed of, and finds herself miserable. She misses her extended family. She misses Amos. Tonia tries to make friends among the Americans around her. However, she feels like  an outsider among them. A wise counselor advises her to decide who she wants to be. Maybe then she’ll know where she wants to live. When Amos arrives in Grand Rapids looking for her, Tonia immediately knows who and where. She wants to be Amos’s wife and live where he lives—back in Israel.

Tonia and Amos’s life there is far from easy. Tonia sometimes wonders why she left America. But deep down she knows she made the right decision. Money and material goods are far less important than love, moral obligations, and loyalty to one’s people and culture.

The book is well written, with evocative descriptions, gripping action, well-realized characters, and authentic appeals to the emotions. It is suitable for senior high school through adult readers.

Thanks to Holland Park Press for sending me a copy to review.


Harriets water color


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