Zionism, Between the Real and the Ideal

shavit3It’s in that painful gap between the real and the ideal that life is truly lived. In our marriages, in our relationships with our children and our parents, the chasm between being the people we are and the people we would like to be plays host to life’s most painful – but also most productive – moments. It is when great expectation confronts disappointment, when love is hamstrung by betrayal and yearning, that we learn that real commitment is tested in the crucible of heartache, in the desperate wish that things had been different, or still could be.
Zionism is actually no different. For those of us raised on stories of


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RECENTLY ADDED: Tel Aviv Short Stories / Shelley Goldman, Joanna Yehiel (2009)

In this centenary year for Tel Aviv, the first Hebrew speaking city, an anthology of English stories captures many facets of the city that many know infinitely less well than they do Jerusalem.  The stories range in quality, and some of it’s a matter of taste, but for an English language window into the world of Tel Aviv that you’ve probably missed thus far, this charming book is a great place to get started.

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A Tale of Love and Darkness / Amos Oz (2004)

Amos Oz’s autobiography captures the flavor of life in Palestine before Independence in ways that virtually nothing else I’ve read does. The passages that describe the events of November 29, 1947, the day of the UN vote on Israel’s creation, and his discussions with a Kibbutz member of whether the Arab “enemy” is really a “murderer,” are literally unforgettable. The entire book is a masterpiece. Read More »

Dancing Arabs / Sayed Kashua (2004)

Kashua is an Israeli Arab, who interestingly writes in Hebrew only. Funny and sad, he is far from an apologist for the “Zionist narrative.” He tells a story of a community that belongs nowhere, and exposes the complexity of Israeli Arab life. Watch also for his second book, “And It Was Morning,” not yet in English. Read More »

The Liberated Bride / A. B. Yehoshua (2003)

I read this book both in Hebrew and in English, and didn’t love it. But I’m a minority. Most people loved it. And it clearly reveals slices of Israeli academic, judicial, Arab and romantic life. It’s a good yarn, if a bit long, and gives a rich picture of dimensions of contemporary Israeli life.

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Six Days of War / Michael B. Oren (2002)

Universally lauded, this book has become a classic. A history of the Six Day War, it reads like a novel. Of particular interest to many will be the opening sections that discuss the period called the “hamtanah,” the weeks prior to the war when many Israelis really feared that the end was at hand. The fragility of the new Jewish State is brought to live in vivid detail. Read More »

Righteous Victims / Benny Morris (1999)

This is a controversial book, and not an easy read for lovers of Israel. But Benny Morris is part of a group of historians whose work must be encountered. He shows that the Palestinians people have causes more complex than Israeli narratives often admit, and that Israeli behavior has been varied. To my mind, a serious engagement with Israel means thinking about these issues as well. Read More »

Israel: A History / Martin Gilbert (1998)

Simply put, a classic history of Israel (very sympathetic) that covers the pre-State and post-Independence periods, from one of our period’s great historians. Very readable. Read More »

The Book of Intimate Grammar / David Grossman (1994)

David Grossman is among Israel’s greatest novelists. This book, in addition to his “See Under: Love”, are wonderful introductions to his work.  Intimate Grammar tracks the story of a poor adolescent in the period of the Six Day War, offering a glimpse into the two Israels of the period: the victor in the Six Day War, and the society still coming to terms with those on its fringes. Read More »

The Blue Mountain / Meir Shalev (1991)

Meir Shalev is also one of Israel’s finest novelists. Rather left wing in his politics, he combines a critical eye with a deep love of the Bible and of the scent and the feel of the land. I include him here not only because he is great, but because he breaks down the stereotype that love of the land must lead to the “right” in politics. His latest books, unfortunately, aren’t yet in English.

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