Sunday, December 6, 2009


I recently just finished reading Amos Oz's "A perfect Peace". The book was incredibly weird to say the least, however, when reading an Oz book- you can never really go wrong. Sure enough his incredible talent was once again revealed in this book- despite even the translation. The book is set in a Kibbutz (surprise, surprise for Oz;))and revolves around the lives of the Kibbutznicks. Set in 1966, the book focuses on the two generations of the Kibbutz; those who built the kibbutz; based on their ideological Zionist principles formed in Europe, and the younger generation that inherited the consequences and realities of these ideas and principles. The younger generation in Oz’s book represent the ultimate embodiment of the dreams and hopes of the early Zionists. The book therefore struggles with the realities of this embodiment. It shows how ‘the Sabra’ is burdened with the heavy ideals and expectations from the older generation. They, in some sense, come to resent the life that they are forced and expected to live. This gap in generation is further highlighted by the introduction of a newcomer to the Kibbutz, Azariah, a man described as “born in the wrong generation". He was born in Europe, survived the Holocaust, and ended up on this Kibbutz. Azariah acts and thinks similar to the original Zionists of the land of Israel did, as a result of his early childhood in Europe and his experience in the Shoah. In some sense, among his generation, he is the “Jew”, and is never fully able to assimilate amongst the Sabras.

The older generation of the Kibbutz, are seeing their ideas come into fruitation, yet are somewhat removed from its complete success. The older generation, despite their attempts to be part of the land, feel as though they can never become natives to the land of Israel, and therefore they want to insure those born in the land, embody what they could never be. Oz has one of the older leaders of the kibbutz write, “...what troubles me is perhaps a vague sense of not belonging. Of homesickness. Of a sorrow that has no address. In this odd place without rivers, without forests, without church bells. Without all those things I loved. Nevertheless, I’m perfectly capable of drawing up the most coldly objective historical, ideological and personal balance sheets, all three of which tell me that the same thing- that there is no mistake. Everyone of us here can take a modest measure of pride in what’s we’ve done, in our long, dogged struggle to create out of nothing this attractive village even if it looks as if it has been built out of blocks by an intelligent child... Detached as I am, I approve of this achievement. We haven’t done a bad job. And to some extend we have truly made better people of ourselves.”(Oz, 221) They’ve created a reality that they can’t necessarily 100% experience. Therefore it is no surprise that even the new generation doesn’t live up to their standards- much of this also has to do with the attitude that the younger generation has to the ideals. The younger generation is stuffed full of ideology they can never fully understand- mostly because they never faced antisemitism and persecution. Not only that but, because of the actions of the older generation they are born in a new conflict, and have the responsibility to protect the land. They therefore ask; : “what more O what more do you want our land that we haven’t given you yet”?? (from a popular patriotic song) I somewhat see this generation as a science experiment- now created to protect the dream of another generation, and told that this too is what they want, and what they need.

Before we continue, I think it is defiantly worth it to look a little closer at the concept of a new Jew or a Sabra, in case anyone is lost thus far. The founding Zionists intended to recreate Jews- basically they wanted to breed a new generation of Jews, a re-definition of the concept of the exilic Jew, in order to create a new type of Hebrew man that would live in Palestine. This redefinition described the Jew as a very manly identity; he was strong, proactive, healthy in body, and ready to labour the land. This new identity clashed with popular perceptions of Jews in Europe; the Jew had come to be seen as weak, pale, cowardly and diseased. Therefore, Zionists had internalized these accusations, and sought to reclaim Jewish masculinity as a reaction to antisemitism. However, the Zionists also rejected their own traditions as Jews, which blurred traditional gender roles. Jews within Ashkenazi culture were either Torah scholars, or smart enlightened men; either way, they were hunched over their books, and passive to the world that surrounded them. Zionism rejected this, and sought to masculinise the new Jew, in order to reject this weak perception and thus create something new in a new land. This reinvention fit into the large context of collective Jewish national revitalization, and came to define a new generation of Jews that would grow up in Palestine.

While there are many interesting themes in Oz's books, I really think that the most interesting theme is this one in particular. While this theme, embedded in Oz’s book, can be seen historically, the theme is definitely still present today in Israeli society. The newest generation of Israelis, although with added years of history, are also the inheritors and the embodiment of the Zionist dream. This thus explains the phenomenon of many Israelis no longer finding any connection to this land. They have no connection to the perils and the threat of exile; it is only something they learn about in class. They face no discrimination within Israel as Jews, obviously because they are the majority of the population. The hardship of Israeli life is reflected not through antisemitism or genocide, but instead through army service, terrorism and the constant threat (and practice) of war. While the older generations were able to justify the later because they valued the eventual goal of statehood, self-determination and acceptance; newer generations have always had this. Without the existential threat that the original Zionists had, the later only become meaningless, and therefore empty tasks. Perhaps the only meaning that has recently been infused in it, is the emergence of nationalism, which is different from Zionism. By this I mean that younger generations value this land because this is where their families for generations have grown, this is where they grew up and this is where a new Israeli (not Jewish) culture is burgeoning. The idea of it being exclusively Jewish, is connected to this new Israeli culture, but it may not always be essential. By this, I mean to say that someone not Jewish can partake in the Israeli culture. (Although the two now are connected, it is growing, so as to not include the Jewish aspect) Therefore, how strong is this nationalism??(Especially in comparison to Zionism) Is it stopping younger generations from the lure of immigration to America—which has its own brand of acceptance, and inclusiveness, that Jews always covet? For some, nationalism is enough to keep them here, but not for others. This would explain the growing number of people who move away to America or Canada. There they can live better economic lives, which are both safer; in all regards (since in many places of Canada and the US, antisemitism is nearly impossible to find) Perhaps, without the deep belief in original Zionism, younger generations are living in an empty shell. A country that they can’t fully connect to the way that original Zionists did. A country they are expected to bleed for, every day of their lives. What for me is especially interesting is the appearance of Oz’s weird character, Azariah, in modern day Israel. To me, he is every Jew that ideologically makes Aliyah- pledging their allegiance to Zionism. They know how it feels to live in Galut, amongst a Christian world, on a Christian calendar, with a Christian focus. They now want to live in the Jewish spotlight, on an exclusively Jewish land. They have no nationalism- only Zionism. This reminds me of a conversation I once had with a native Israeli. He argued that he wanted to live in Canada, away from the craziness, and the burden of Israel- an easy and simple life. I couldn’t understand it; all I see in Thornhill is some boring land, with houses in suburbia that all look the exact same. (some kind of wrinkle in time description) A land with no meaning, and where I have no connection to it’s history. Yet- this is exactly it, this is the lure. Here- the land demands so much from you- and each Israeli has to decide if it's enough in return. And what about all the Azariahs?? Born in the wrong generation, smelling of Zionist propaganda- giving up their families, economic easiness, and simple lives, just to live in Israel. Are we crazy?? Or are we are willing to adopt all this crazy in return for the satisfaction of living the Zionist dream- just as our Zionist elders who came from Europe did. Maybe born in the wrong generation, but re-defining this one too.

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