“How people loved to see a dream shatter… To see the dreamer hobbled and lamed, foundering in the shards of their broken hopes. This is what you get for believing that you could have more. You’re no better than us. You’re nothing special.” ― Laini Taylor
The Jewish nation is a torn nation. At once striving to elevate and transcend, while also endeavoring to exist in the material world, as do other nations. Generations of Jews witnessed atrocities and tragedies as various empires sought to extinguish the people and their essence – the Torah.
The historical and religious homeland of the Jews can be traced to the current state of Israel, yet there is dispute – constant, irreverent dispute, regarding authentic ownership of the land. For though the current state of Israel was a creation of a UN partition plan to mitigate the aftermath of British withdrawal (the British having occupied Palestine since 1918, previously under jurisdiction of the Ottomon Empire), the actual origins of the Jewish presence extend back thousands of years through multiple iterations of sovereignty and exile.
These mizrahi Jews were native to the region (my family is included in this population as we hail from Iraq, the homeland of Abraham). But what of the Eastern European Jews who settled the land and built the kibbutzim (the utopian model of communal living fashioned after the Socialist ideal) that began during the first decade of the twentieth century? These pioneers who were persecuted in their own lands, who absolved themselves of the God of Abraham, who toiled under the banner of the collective to bring the desert back to life – their “old ideology had been necessary to create a state from nothing. But [during the second half of the twentieth century] this utopian nostalgia was preventing Israel from becoming the great nation [it could be]” (173). It is this untethering, this disparity of ideals, that Yossi Klein Halevi explores in his work Like Dreamers. The book narrates the unification of Jerusalem and the subsequent ensuing wars, struggles between Israel and her neighbors, and also internally – among the different sects within the nation.
The Six Day War of 1967 was not only an existential victory for the young country, but also one of unfettered hope, despite the devastating loss of life, for the Holy City of Jerusalem was finally reunited and under Israeli control. “In celebrating their military prowess, Israelis were celebrating existence. For Jews to have learned to fight so well, so soon after they had died in their helpless millions [during the Holocaust] was an affirmation of their force” (119). And yet, in the aftermath the prism shattered.
Amidst the survivors of the battles, dogmas were defined and affirmed, forging an unbreachable schism between political camps until “[t]he spiritual calculus was evident: disunity [brought] destruction; unity redemption” (109). For some, there was pride “in the kibbutz movement for settling the borders of Israel and creating a class of selfless servers…[but their vision of] a centralized economy stifle[d] initiative and reward[ed] laziness” (172). Likewise, the growing efforts of the Right to build anew and reclaim the majesty of the Jewish Kingdom by settling newly conquered areas of Judea and Samaria was met with resistance, because “to correct the injustices of the past meant imposing new injustices” (429).
The country and its people continue down this mired path, deepening the resolve of extremists fringe elements, adding to the litany of despair on every front – a lack of cohesion and consensus. Arik Achmon, a military commander who played a pivotal role in Israel’s 1967 victory, pointedly observed that “when you are in power for too long…political considerations become more important than national considerations…The institutions and leaders…have failed. The system…has failed in every way. We can’t depend on anyone but ourselves” (269). A people trapped and fraught with pain were no longer able to place faith in their leaders. How prescient that across the globe, we face the same perils today.
Klein Halevi, Yossi. Like Dreamers. Harper Collins, New York. 2013.
Featured Artwork: Ronit Joy Holtz https://www.ronitjoyholtz.com