Home—Pittsburgh, PA. E-mail—[email protected]
Writer and Democratic Reform Project Manager. Project Manager for Creative Associates International (an international development company), Jerusalem, Israel, 2007—. Has worked for Ameri-Corps in Colorado and Texas, as a special education social studies teacher in Washington, DC, and as deputy regional coordinator of the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) at the U.S. Department of State. Research fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Superior achievement and meritorious achievement awards, U.S. State Department, for designing and managing democratic reform projects in the Middle East and North Africa; recipient of the Boren fellowship, CASA fellowship, and David Kagan fellowship from Johns Hopkins University.
Contributor to books, including Political Encyclopedia of the Middle East and publications of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Contributor of articles on the Middle East and international security to newspapers and journals, including Daily Start (Beirut, Lebanon), Jewish Chronicle, Jordan Times, Middle East Review of International Affairs Journal, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, PolicyWatch, San Francisco Examiner, and Zaman, (Turkey). Author of the research note "Tracking Students from Terrorism-Supporting Middle Eastern Countries: An Update," Washington Institute for Near East Policy (Washington, DC), 1999.
As a young man of twenty-seven, Benjamin Orbach traveled to the Middle East in 2002 on a fellowship to polish his Arabic speaking skills and study Jordan-American trade relations, as well as to experience firsthand the area he was studying in graduate school at Johns Hopkins University. His secret mission, though, was to engage in personal diplomacy in a troubled area. It was also a troubled time, sandwiched between the events of September 11, 2001, and the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. He spent a year traveling in Jordan, Egypt, Syria, Palestine, and Turkey. At first, he optimistically revealed that he was Jewish, but he soon realized that if he continued to do so, religion would dominate his discussions with citizens. As he explained to Aaron Leibel, a reviewer for the Washington Jewish Week Online Edition: "I was more interested in talking about foreign policy issues." Therefore, Orbach learned to hide his identity in order to communicate more freely with the people he met, from taxi drivers to the wealthy elite, whom he termed "the ketchup eaters" because they could afford to buy ketchup at six dollars a bottle. He wrote frequent letters and e-mails to allay the worries of his family and kept a journal of his experiences. Encouragement from friends who enjoyed his observations on day-to-day living in the Middle East inspired him to fashion his notes into his first book-length work, Live from Jordan: Letters Home from My Journey through the Middle East. Orbach has also written numerous articles on the Middle East and international security during his successful career analyzing public diplomacy.
Live from Jordan was published in 2007. Constructed in the form of letters from the countries he visits, the travelogue offers pertinent historical content as well as perceptive observations about contemporary conditions, the sharp divide between rich and poor, and the complex range of attitudes towards Americans, American culture, and American foreign policy. Live from Jordan has received favorable reviews. April Younglove, writing for Library Journal, called it a "highly readable epistolary narrative" and "an optimistic work … that promotes the idea of real dialog in and with the Middle East." A reviewer for Internet Bookwatch remarked that the book's "approach and presentation are winning," while a critic for the blog American Pundit called it "a wonderful tale—not of danger and intrigue, but of good friends and interesting, hospitable people." Natasha Twal Tynes, writing for Jordan Times, felt that "Orbach should be given credit for clarifying to the Western reader that Anti-Americanism in Jordan was not directed towards individuals but rather towards the overall foreign policy of the United States." As for Jordanian readers, Tynes said that "while the Western reader will have a great deal of material to digest, for Jordanians, the book primarily serves as an avenue for contemplation and critical self-examination."
Orbach told CA: "Writing is teaching in a different form. It is extremely fulfilling to serve as a guide in sharing experiences, stories, new information, and insights.
"The most surprising thing I have learned as a writer is that you have the capability to take readers to another place and make it feel as if they are there themselves.
"Introducing Americans to a part of the Middle East that they never get to see on television or get to know firsthand really means a lot to me. The Middle East has been at the center of so many of our national problems, especially in the last few years. It is important that Americans know a little more about the nuances and the people so that we are able to ask appropriate questions of our leaders.
"My goal is to educate the public on important issues in a way that is entertaining and insightful and as far from heavy-handed as possible."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Internet Bookwatch, July, 2007, review of Live from Jordan, p. 320.
Jordan Times, September 17, 2007, Natasha Twal Tynes, review of Live from Jordan.
Library Journal, May 15, 2007, April Younglove, review of Live from Jordan, p. 102.
American Pundit,http://americanpundit.blog-city.com/ (July 24, 2007), review of Live from Jordan.
Benjamin Orbach Home Page,http://benjaminorbach.com (April 1, 2008).
Johns Hopkins Magazine Online,http://www.jhu.edu/~jhumag/ (April 1, 2008), Greg Rienzi, review of Live from Jordan.
Washington Jewish Week Online Edition,http://www.washingtonjewishweek.com/ (May 30, 2007), Aaron Leibel, review of Live from Jordan.