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From Rural American to Israel: An Orthodox Jews Unorthodox Life

What’s the meaning of life? 


How should you raise children? 


What’s the secret to a happy marriage?


You could ask a real expert, sure. But Joseph Cox, a Quality Assurance Manager at a small aerospace company, seems to think he has it all figured out.


Is he right? Is he wrong?


Who knows? Who cares?


The stories are fun.

“Joseph Cox has a wonderful ability to engage characters, intriguing plot lines and deep questions, not only in the story, but questions that we are moved to ask ourselves about our own lives. I enjoyed following the twists and turns as I had the opportunity to get to know Neisha better, as she tried to figure out the role that she was brought in to play. She demonstrated an inspiring combination of strength and vulnerability, intelligence and curiosity that kept me motivated to follow her on her journey. A fun read, but also one that challenged my own outlook on the world.”

Susan Quinn – Amazon Reviewer

“An easy, entertaining and intellectually stimulating read. Creativity, character development, plot all well conceived, but what blew me away was how the author so vividly and believably portrayed vastly different characters, especially our heroine, Maryam… What a compassionate heart blended with a passionate mind. Thank you for writing this book!”

Claire Darling – Amazon Reviewer


Other Books/Reviews

The Torah Shorts Series

Mary Charlotte

Reviewed in the United States on December 7, 2018

I am a Christian – who knows next to nothing about the Torah. I do know about stories that speak to you as if you’re the only one listening. Cox writes such stories. This is a volume of short stories with clear insights toward individuals building relationship with God and one another. The characters are appealing and drawn quickly. For this novice, the explication of the Torah reference is smooth and thought provoking.

Aiden shinar

Reviewed in the United States on December 24, 2018

Joseph Cox has a way with words like I’ve never seen with anyone before. Every one of his stories is Immediately captivating and beautifully written. 5/5 would recommend to anyone who has any interest in torah or short stories

Avi Unterman

Reviewed in the United States on September 25, 2019

Joseph Cox shows his knack for a ripping good yarn that contains multiple layers. You can read it just as a regular tale but you’d miss the deeper lessons about political divides and how we should think and act differently to really make a change in our communities and cultures. Give it a try!

Jimmy Freedom

Reviewed in the United States on February 15, 2022

I was asked to read this book by a good friend! Little did I know that after receiving the invitation, I read the book not only once but twice! The first time I read it as a casual reader looking to be entertained by the numerous stories of the Author’s life growing up and finding himself. I was very satisfied but felt that I had not dived into the text enough to truly understand the meaning behind each story.

The second time I read it, I focused in on the lessons, how every experience leaves us a changed person and it is up to us how we respond to those changes and what course we take from that experience. Joseph has a fun yet deeper grasp of the human spirit and what it is that makes us get up every morning to face the world. I hope that you get the chance to read the book and receive the same pleasure that I did. But be careful, you might just learn something about yourself along the way!


Reviewed in the United States on January 27, 2022

If you’ve never crossed paths with Joseph Cox, you won’t believe that the story detailed in this book is true. Only a wildly imaginative author of fiction could weave such a tale of adventure, pain, faith, despair, resourcefulness, creativity, desperation, and deepest joy. Indeed, Cox has written other such tales from the wanderings of his genius, but this volume is informed only by the reality that has been his life. He is a master of storytelling and a thinker whose inspiration you won’t want to miss.


Reviewed in the United States on January 23, 2022

I loved this book. Besides the obvious fact that it was funny and full of interesting ideas, the author has a way of elevating the everyday to seem extraordinary. That is, most autobiographies are all about the incredible things that the author has done or had happen; this is about how a normal person can take a normal life and make it seem truly incredible. Loved it.

Susan R. Quinn

Reviewed in the United States on December 28, 2021

I have read other books by Joseph Cox, and this one had a wonderful combination of life insights, humor, dealing with challenges and his devotion to his faith. You come away believing that you have gotten to know him and his beliefs about life, child raising and his commitment to living a faith-full life. I plan to read it again!


In a bizarre coincidence, my two most interesting friends (sorry, everyone else; it’s not even close) published autobiographies the same week. Each one is a triumph in its own right but reading them back-to-back was one of the most eye-opening experiences of my life.
Tareq Azim and Joseph Cox literally could not be more different. Joseph is a self-taught Orthodox Jew whose family lived in the woods completely cut off from humanity; he was homeschooled, homeless for a while, and his claims to fame include being the youngest American ever prosecuted for racketeering and having a small hand in saving the purple potato from extinction. Tareq is a Muslim athlete descended from one of the most prestigious families in Afghanistan who fled when the Taiban took over and is now one of the top NFL and UFC trainers in the world.
Their stories are equally fascinating. I have spent countless hours listening to Joseph’s stories about the unbelievable things that have happened to him (note: unbelievable, but true; I started to doubt him at one point, and then he told me the story of how his car blew up and I decided that was enough. “Joseph, I love your stories, but that didn’t happen”, I said. He disappeared into his bedroom and came back with a series of pictures of him and his car, on fire, that set me straight. I never doubted him again. In any case, I can personally verify the veracity of a number of his stories that happened later in his life). I have also spent countless hours with Tareq, listening to how he has changed the world in the past and how he plans to do so in the future.
But that’s where the similarities end. Joseph grew up, got married, had kids. Tareq faced down the Taliban and somehow successfully started an Afghan women’s boxing league with the purpose of empowering the women of Afghanistan. Joseph wrote 11 books, the best-selling of which sold 170 copies. Tareq’s first book hit #1 immediately. And so on.
But what struck me about the books is that, although the stories are wildly different, the tone is the same. Both are living truly extraordinary lives and looking to improve the world, but they’re doing it in fundamentally different ways. Tareq looks at the world and asks himself how he can mold it to make it better. Joseph looks at the world and asks himself how to see the greatness in what’s already there. Tareq seeks out the world’s most extraordinary individuals and makes them better. Joseph sees the extraordinary in the people you meet every day.
There’s wisdom and value in both perspectives. The world wouldn’t be where it was without people like Tareq; but you can’t appreciate the world for what it really is without people like Joseph.
I grew up in a world that applauded uniformity and broadcast the message that there is only one path to a good life. I’ve come to believe that the nice thing about a multidimensional universe is that there are infinite paths between any two points.
Grobar Cover

Reviewed in the United States on June 17, 2006

that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it”.

This Holden Caulfield’s line came to mind, when all done reading “Grobar” and I would probably wished it even more, if had a chance to read this brilliant adventure story as a kid

Dr. K. Lawrence Green

Reviewed in the United States on June 9, 2006

This is a particularly exciting, charming and insightful book, for children, as well as adults. Don’t deny yourself the pleasure of reading it. The author entertains us with a great blend of action, humor and allegory, which are accessable to the young and old alike. Information technology professionals will be particularly interested in it’s hidden politic, as will parents and children alike be encouraged and inspired by the author’s keen vision into the latent abilities of young people to affect our world, and our responsibility and opportunity to recognize and nurture these potentialities. It speaks to our inner virtues, like loyalty and courage, and the desire within all of us to fight for justice and freedom.

It’s also a darn fun read! How can you go wrong teleporting amphibians and waddling spies? My only criticism is that I have waited too long for the sequel.


Reviewed in the United States on October 9, 2005

This is a really awesome book. It’s wierd – no other word to describe it – and incredibly fun.

I picked it up yesturday, and couldn’t put it down until I finished it, so engrossed was I in the adventures of this evil goat, ten-year-old boy and underground organization of penguin spies.

All the wierd, unexpected twists kept me riveted.

This is a book you absolutely /have/ to read.


Reviewed in the United States on August 5, 2005

This book was laugh out loud funny, enthralling for kids, and really enjoyable for adults. If I had to recommend a book for parents to buy for their kids, I’d recommend this one before I’d recommend Harry Potter, Lemony Snicket, or any other…

Nyx Falconer

Reviewed in the United States on August 14, 2006

Hey, everybody, get this and read it right away, because it’s really fun. I hope the author is going to write another one soon, because I want to find out what happens next with ALL the characters in the book.

I liked the little drawings at the beginning of the chapters, too.

Lechem Lab

Reviewed in the United States on March 2, 2007

The author really understands kids. This book is entertaining and deep. It inspires, educates, teaches kindness, courage. It has hidden levels, something to think about. I agree that it is great for all ages. Inspired by “Grobar”, my 10 y.o. nephew asks questions and reads articles about heavy water, nuclear energy, and penguins. He also thinks that Grobar has some relation to Microsoft 🙂

David Gursky

Reviewed in the United States on October 17, 2005

Talking penguin armies, an insecure elephant, and a goat hell bent on world domination. All that and a frog that can teleport itself around the world but not a foot in front of you. Good read for kids of all ages. (I.e. hide it from Dad…]

Squiggles Cover
J. Rhinewine

Reviewed in the United States on January 23, 2016

We can’t wait to find out what happens in the conclusion of this rollicking animal espionage trilogy! My 8-year old and I are enjoying it immensely.

Nechama Katan

Reviewed in the United States on August 9, 2015

My 7 year old loved this book. It provided many chuckles and hours of healthy entertainment while learning a bit more about the world.

An easy, entertaining and intellectually stimulating read. Creativity, character development, plot all well conceived, but what blew me away was how the author so vividly and believably portrayed vastly different characters, especially our heroine, Maryam, a 16 year old Muslim young woman fleeing after her parents are killed from a bomb. What a compassionate heart blended with a passionate mind. Thank you for writing this book!


Reviewed in the United States on August 31, 2018

Great read, engaging and captivating to read. Surprisingly relevant to today’s world. I read a lot of suspense and thriller novels so this was a bit of a departure, but not too much. As both an Afghanistan and Iraq War Vet, I was very impressed with Cox’s understanding of the personal dynamics within the Arab world. Although fiction, I definitely could identify with many of the scenes and mental images that came to mind while reading the book. Furthermore, it was nice to see someones idea of hope after having spent multiple years in the quagmire where the story takes place.

I definitely recommend it to everyone and know Vets will form an extra connection with the story line.

Thomas A. Reed

Reviewed in the United States on March 4, 2019

An Iraqi girl fleeing her homeland with her little brother following the violent deaths of their parents; a young Syrian man seeking revenge after the government-sanctioned murder of his father; a wealthy American technology entrepreneur searching for greater meaning in her life–the paths of all three characters will cross in unpredictable ways within the confines of an innovative community located on the Israeli/Palestinian border. Joseph Cox’s gripping thriller keeps the reader both engrossed and on edge while simultaneously exploring multiple facets of today’s Middle East. I highly recommend this book.



Susan R. Quinn
Reviewed in the United States on October 16, 2017

Joseph Cox has written an intriguing book based on his clearly intimate knowledge of the Middle East. His characters are fascinating, especially his main character, Maryam. He suggests a unique approach to the conflict in that part of the world, and perhaps others will see the value in considering them. A great read!

The Middle East is notorious for its brutal ever-lasting conflicts. Is it possible to find a rational, “human”, not a Biblical Scale solution to the unrest?  Jewish American philanthropist Steven Gold believes that this is doable. His proposal is the “City on the Heights”- a multi-national and multi-religious city-state located at the Holland Heights.  It’s modeled after Amsterdam which played a similar role during the European wars of the Reformation. Luckily, Steve manages to win support of two very powerful Israelis: the Finance Minister and the Chief Rabbi. His team is also great, but the challenges are enormous. After the Syrian missile blasts the city soon after the first encouraging steps are made, the project seems doomed. It was saved by two bright and courageous women. The incredibly  smart and resourceful teenager Maryam, who escaped with her little brother Ibrahim  from the city of Mosul, and American billionaire Elizabeth responsible for the city’s finances. Together, they were able to uncover an evil plot aiming to destroy the city, pioneered in implementing the court system inspired by the famous advise that Jethro gave to Moses, and helped to create a business environment leading to the city’s financial independence and future prosperity… This is a smart, intellectually honest, deeply informative and captivating reading. It inspired many thoughts and questions. One of them bothers me the most. Was it really a purely rational and human solution? Did it really avoid the “Biblical Scale” interference? The secret of Maryam’s origin revealed in  the very end of the book and some other hints planted by the author, leave this  peculiar question open to wide  interpretation.

N. Dunham

Reviewed in the United States on October 3, 2017

This is a richly-textured, thought-provoking, page-turner of a book. I was up ’til 3:00AM finishing it. The characters are 3-dimensional; I *cared* about them. The settings are ripe for filming. The pace carries the reader forward into a new understanding/experience of the Middle East. I recommend it highly. Looking forward to more from the author!


Reviewed in the United States on October 3, 2017

I don’t read many thrillers, because I often find no emotional connection to the characters. I see this as a thriller – one peopled by characters simultaneously exceptional and believable – people who are driven by their individual quests for meaning to The City on the Heights.

Sandi Feldhaus

Reviewed in the United States on May 26, 2018



Reviewed in the United States on November 10, 2017

Thank you. Very well done. I enjoyed reading this book very much. Well thought out, and well written, and well worth reading.

Sharon D. Shuller

Reviewed in the United States on January 23, 2019

Very well written! Great book for book circle discussions.


Reviewed in the United States on November 25, 2020


This fictional story is told from the perspective of three characters (the chapters rotate between the three of them), and obviously the plot arcs of each of the three intertwine.

The characters are deep and relatable, the story is compelling, entertaining, and engaging: a real page turner.

Now although this book is a work of fiction, and the story stands on its own (is a good read for someone just looking for an entertaining novel), it is also a thinly veiled presentation of a real-world proposal.

The author proposes to establish a “model city” to set a real-life example of liberty and toleration, thereby spreading these ideas throughout the Middle East and the world.

In my opinion, it’s a solid idea, although a few of the details require revision. So as not to spoil the plot and to save space in this review, I’ll leave this up to the reader’s judgment.

Cox has written a convincing landscape in which a utopia can be made real. This book is also a tribute to women everywhere; his women are real and heroes, no doubt based on the women in his own life. The story is told with three points of view, all true to life. Here is a book that one can read to know more about the Middle East, its terrain, its history, and its people. The City on the Heights is also a good read, full of adventure and precise description. I particularly treasured the section in which two young people, a sister and her disabled little brother make wheat flour from an abandoned wheat field in an abandoned house in an abandoned village. The City on the Heights is a modern City on the Hill, one in which humans live in harmony.

City on the Heights hits on many notes and has a musical harmony throughout supporting the main melody that underpins a complex narrative of the modern middle east. Joseph takes you through thematic issues at the sovereign state level to individual wants, needs and prejudices of really well developed characters.

The goal is exploratory in a fictional way of what a city might be that can live with differences, yet in harmony to survive and become a multicultural society that respects the wants, needs, and beliefs of others.

Fast moving as it draws you in from the first page to the last. The detailed explanations and descriptions add the flourishes of color from a well researched knowledge base such that it is easy to get lost into reading as if a real life expose’ versus a fictional story. Supremely crafted if you are interested in multiculturalism, what motivations drive people and possible avenues of finding peace.

It was an absolute pleasure to come across a book so beautifully written that the characters seem to leap off the page and into the world around me. The three main characters, so vastly different in background, personality, priorities, and opinions are all so relatable and understandable. This book will not disappoint! Joseph proposes new and thought provoking ideas that will stay in your mind and heart long after you’ve finished the book. I usually judge the quality of a book by how long it stays with me after I’ve closed it…. And this excellent book is no exception. I find myself thinking about the characters and their ever changing, interwoven lives long after I’ve put the book down. And that, to me, is a mark of an excellent book. Highly recommend!

rivka levy

Reviewed in the United States on January 19, 2019


It’s hard to find gripping fiction about the modern Middle East that doesn’t leave you a little depressed, at least if it’s at all realistic. City on the Heights was a very pleasant change – page turning plot married with a message of hope. I read it in one sitting.


Reviewed in the United States on June 23, 2019

Joseph is a gifted storyteller. He weaves a complex story together beautifully in a novel you don’t want to put down. I am already looking forward to his next work.

Amazon Customer

Reviewed in the United States on December 14, 2017

Without edging too far into spoiler territory, it’s a work of alternative (recent) history which starts in Mosul and ends in the Golan Heights. It is written from a number of points of view – including a Jihadi’s . What was remarkable was that it’s written so generous heartedly that I liked all the protagonists – even the ones I disagreed with, or whose motives I found essentially alien. Which was something that I found tremendously attractive about the book, as an unstated theme. Let it be noted that I was predisposed against the book – because I had taken against some other short fiction by the author – but the story and the story telling won me over.

The heart of the plot is the progression of a young woman, Maryam, from the collapse of one society to the creation of a new one. Which of course makes the plot a perfect vehicle to get into issues of what makes societies work, even in extremis, and how. The nerd in me was further entranced that this included not just social but some details of economic theory. (Sort of like a Frank Herbert transposed from Arakis to the recent Middle East.) There was also a lot of technological detail – much of which went over my head, but which I’m assuming is correct, and which seemed intrinsic to the plot.


Reviewed in the United States on January 25, 2019

Page-turning, great suspense and dialogue, and informative if you want to understand better the various factions in the Middle East. I learned valuable information from this book.
As a lover of utopian/dystopian fiction, and a person who hasn’t despaired of peace in the Middle East but knows that it will take some very creative thinking and a lot of faith and miracles, I love how the author brings to life a fantastic idea of a model city, but does not leave it as pie-in-the-sky sickly-sweet fantasy. Rather, he introduces the violent and conflictual reality of this region to his Utopia, but in the end also gives us some hope and faith.

Robert Rabinowitz
5.0 out of 5 stars Thriller and thought experiment

Reviewed in the United Kingdom on December 28, 2017

I was passed this book by someone I met on the plane and got halfway through it before we landed. Once I got home, I bought the book so I could finish it off. The City on the Heights imagines people (naïve dreamers?) who decide to actually to do something in response to the bewildering tribal chaos that has engulfed Iraq and Syria in the last few years – create a “city of refuge” on the Golan Heights. I found the two main characters who come to the City -a teenage girl and a ruthless terrorist – really compelling and the stories of the routes by which they come to the city were the high spot of the book for me – it made me feel like the author had travelled through these war torn regions. Their game of strategy for control of the fate of the city is really clever. The book is not only a thriller but it gave me a window onto the terror and chaos and made me think about whether and how any good can yet come of the suffering and warfare.

Susan Quinn

“The Hidden Agent tells an intriguing and daring story of Neisha, a young woman who is an FBI agent, who has been charged with arresting an evasive international spiritual idol, Aji Abakar. The book will capture your imagination, as Neisha works to figure out the stories behind the story, to determine who are the people she can trust and who are the people who are determined to take her life. The book touches the imagination and engages us to contemplate issues of trust, blessing and justice.”

Nancy Dunham

“I LOVE everything about this book. The characters are complex, not cardboard cutouts. The author makes readers experience and *care*about what happens in them/with them/to them – and taken us on a memorably cinematic-feeling ride while he’s at it. Bravo! The spiritual aspect is discernible, as intended – but gentle – guiding readers to the realities he’d  like us to consider for  healing and hope  for the world and in our own lives….Perfectly balanced.”