The Life and Times of Israeli Paratroopers (REVIEW)

September 25, 2013 9:13 am 0 comments

Paratroopers participate in an exercise at the new Navim base. Photo: Yissachar Ruas/ Tazpit News Agency.

JNS.orgReligious Zionism and the kibbutz movement, Israeli author and think-tanker Yossi Klein Halevi recently told me, are “the two messianic streams within Zionism that wanted more than just a safe refuge for the Jewish people.” In his estimation, those forces—as well as their internal struggle and their collective battle against the “normalizing” forces of Israeli society—have shaped Israeli history since the conclusion of the 1967 Six-Day War.

In “Like Dreamers,” a new book assessing the battle for Jerusalem and its legacy, Klein Halevi skillfully explores these intersecting forces by examining the brigade of Israeli paratroopers that reunited Israel’s capital.

“For me, what this book really is about is the fate of Israel’s utopian dreams,” said Klein Halevi, a research fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute.

The book traces the professional and personal trajectories of seven veterans of the 55th Brigade, including Arik Achmon, the kibbutznik chief intelligence officer turned avid capitalist; Yoel Bin-Nun, rabbi and founder of two settlements and a yeshiva in Judea and Samaria; Meir Ariel, poet-singer who wrote and performed “Jerusalem of Iron” in the immediate wake of the 1967 war; a conceptual artist and environmentalist; two religious Zionists who spearheaded the Gush Emunim settlement movement; and even a disillusioned Leftist who allied with Syria.

The book, Klein Halevi told me, originated in a newspaper article about the brigade he read in an Israeli daily some 15 years ago. “I remember being struck by that and thought this would make an interesting article someday,” the author said. “And it turned into an 11-year article.”

This book-length article, which Klein Halevi regards as a “deeply revealing group and individual portrait,” traverses Israel’s political, cultural, economic, and spiritual divides by illuminating the transition of the movement to settle the West Bank and Gaza from a secular to a religious enterprise, as well as the slow but inexorable transformation of its economy from lethargic socialist basket-case to thriving capitalist success.

This careful analysis includes wartime, when these seven men from wildly divergent backgrounds unite against a common enemy, as well as peacetime, when “they’re fighting often with each other to help shape the character and the destiny of Israel”—a vitality, Klein Halevi said, that “impels us forward, but also is often the cause of our stalemate against ourselves.”

Yet by the end of the story in the mid-2000s—or at least where Klein Halevi chooses to end it—the stalemate breaks, at least modestly, as Israelis have come to embrace a grudging, tough-nosed centrism, even unity, as illustrated by the book’s final vignette: Bin-Nun’s re-enactment of the battle for Jerusalem in front of a religiously and politically ecumenical crowd.

“After 45 years of vehement and often brutal disagreement between Left and Right,” Klein Halevi told me, “a majority of Israelis today are a little bit Left and a little bit Right at the same time.” He’s optimistic about “the emergence of a new political sobriety in Israel,” but cautions that, perhaps paradoxically, “being a centrist in the Israeli context means you strongly embrace opposite principles.”

Of course, many chapters remain to be written in Israel’s enduring story, but the ones Klein Halevi tells well in “Like Dreamers” result from tireless journalistic efforts.

The author struggled with “a deep reluctance on the part of some of the key personalities to truly open up”—par for the course for Israelis of that generation. At the beginning of the project, his subjects regarded him as a yeled chutz—a negative term meaning “outsider child” that carries connotations from kibbutz days. Yet Klein Halevi wore this term as a badge of pride, noting that “maybe only a yeled chutz could have written this book… an attempt to create a unified narrative of the last 45 years that embraces Left and Right in the same story.”

Indeed, some of the keenest socio-political analyses in modern history were written by outsiders—Alexis de Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America” comes to mind. Here, on a smaller scale, Klein Halevi weaves a tale that is both impassioned and dispassionate, engaged and impartial, revealing and objective. Regarding his characters, the author confided that he feels a personal attachment “to every one of them,” and yet throughout “Like Dreamers,” he subjects their individual and ideological arcs to vigorous, although always sensitive, scrutiny.

Klein Halevi characterized the book, which he researched and wrote over the course of more than a decade, as “a combination of intense frustration and occasional exhilaration… a nagging feeling that I’m not doing this story justice.” He needn’t worry. As a work of political, cultural, and religious history, “Like Dreamers” is a triumph.

“Like Dreamers: The Story of the Israeli Paratroopers Who Reunited Jerusalem and Divided a Nation,” by Yossi Klein Halevi. October 2013. HarperCollins, 608 pages, $35.

Michael M. Rosen is an attorney and writer in San Diego. Reach him at michaelmrosen@yahoo.com.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Europe Featured Sports Major Jewish Group Accuses Popular Soccer Website Goal.com of ‘Inciting Jew-Hatred’

    Major Jewish Group Accuses Popular Soccer Website Goal.com of ‘Inciting Jew-Hatred’

    Major Jewish human rights group the Simon Wiesenthal Center on Monday sharply criticized popular soccer news site Goal.com for “denying the legitimacy of Israel and inciting to Jew-hatred” in its Arabic language versions, The Algemeiner has learned. In a sharp letter to the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA), the Center’s Director for International Relations, Dr. Shimon Samuels, drew attention to articles on the site that refer to Israel as the “Zionist entity” or an “enemy,” and accuse the Jewish state [...]

    Read more →
  • Relationships US & Canada Time Out Features Single Lady Who Likes ‘Big Schlubby Jewish Comedians’

    Time Out Features Single Lady Who Likes ‘Big Schlubby Jewish Comedians’

    A profile published Wednesday in Time Out New York highlighted a 25-year-old Brooklyn woman who claimed she is attracted to chubby Jewish comedians, Maxim Deputy Editor Jason Feifer pointed out via Twitter. Talking about a date she went on, Steph, a sunglasses designer living in Borough Park, told the magazine, ”He was very attractive, just not my type. I like big schlubby Jewish comedians and he was clean-cut.” Feifer posted a picture of the magazine page and commented that Steph’s preferences amounted [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Sports Gold on the Galilee: Israeli Kayaker Comes of Age, Eyes Olympics (VIDEO)

    Gold on the Galilee: Israeli Kayaker Comes of Age, Eyes Olympics (VIDEO)

    JNS.org – Three years ago, kayaking coach Roei Lev found aspiring Olympian Ilya Podpolnyy crying on the steps of the Jordan Valley Sprint Kayak Club overlooking the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee). Podpolnyy, then 17 years old, had just been disqualified from the Israeli kayaking championship. He couldn’t survive the heats. He didn’t make the start line. He was devastated—and he had no one with whom to share his hopes, his dreams, and his disappointment. His divorced parents still live in [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada Lena Dunham Responds to Charges of Antisemitism: It was Just a Jew Joke

    Lena Dunham Responds to Charges of Antisemitism: It was Just a Jew Joke

    “Girls” creator Lena Dunham responded on Tuesday to charges of antisemitism over an article she had penned for the New Yorker, saying it was all in good humor. Speaking to Variety, Dunham reflected on her “tight-knit Jewish family, where Jew jokes were part of the essential fiber of our communication.” The article Dunham referred to was called “Dog or Jewish Boyfriend? A Quiz,” with options such as “He doesn’t Tip” and “He’s Crazy for Cream Cheese.” Among Dunham’s critics, Anti-Defamation [...]

    Read more →
  • Sports US & Canada Former NBA Star Tweets Article About Jewish Conspiracy to Control Global Media

    Former NBA Star Tweets Article About Jewish Conspiracy to Control Global Media

    Retired NBA player Keyon Dooling tweeted a link on Wednesday to a wildly antisemitic article that accuses Jews of seizing control of the world’s media and using it to promote their own interests. The article, published by an obscure blog in April 2013, highlights six companies it claims are owned by Jews — such as Time Warner, Inc. and the Walt Disney Company – that allegedly “control 96 percent of the world’s media.”  The post includes allegations of “Jewish control” and says [...]

    Read more →
  • Sports US & Canada Rosh Hashanah Won’t Keep the Giants’ Geoff Schwartz From Season Opener

    Rosh Hashanah Won’t Keep the Giants’ Geoff Schwartz From Season Opener

    New York Giants offensive guard Geoff Schwartz responded to an outcry from Jewish fans on Tuesday, saying he will go ahead and play in the season opener despite the fact that it falls on the first night of Rosh Hashanah. “Keep getting tweets about that being the first night of Rosh Hashanah… Don’t know what I’m supposed to tell you. It’s a tough break,” the Jewish athlete wrote, referring to the Giants’ on-the-road game against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, Sept. [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Sports Jewish Coach David Blatt Has NBA’s Cavaliers Surging at Playoff Time

    Jewish Coach David Blatt Has NBA’s Cavaliers Surging at Playoff Time

    JNS.org – When David Blatt was hired as head coach of the National Basketball Association’s Cleveland Cavaliers last June, he was not often recognized when he walked the streets of downtown Cleveland. What a difference a year makes. Now, Blatt can go few places without being recognized. For good reason. The Jewish coach has the Cavaliers in the mix to win the city of Cleveland’s first championship in a major sport since the Browns won the National Football League title in [...]

    Read more →
  • Europe Sports Croatian Soccer Star’s Hebrew Tattoo Causes a Stir Online

    Croatian Soccer Star’s Hebrew Tattoo Causes a Stir Online

    A Hebrew tattoo sported by Croatian soccer star Mario Mandzukic became an internet sensation in Israel after it was exposed on Tuesday during a Champions League match between Ateltico Madrid and Real Madrid A first glance, the tattoo, on the athlete’s back, might leave one with the impression that it was an unfortunate artistic mistake, since the Hebrew letters do not make sense as they are written. However, a closer look at the tattoo shows that it was actually written [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.