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...

  • Music US & Canada Lady Gaga Accepts ADL Award: ‘Your Philosophies Are So in Line With Ours’ (VIDEO)

    Lady Gaga Accepts ADL Award: ‘Your Philosophies Are So in Line With Ours’ (VIDEO)

    Pop superstar Lady Gaga on Thursday accepted an award from Jewish human rights group the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) on behalf of her Born This Way Foundation, which strives to combat bullying among young people. “Your philosophies are so in line with ours,” she said of the ADL upon accepting the Making a Difference Award in a videotaped message, which was shown at a ceremony in New York City. “We want to help young people know that their feelings and who they are on [...]

    Read more →
  • Music Personalities At 80, Singer-Songwriter Leonard Cohen’s Jewish Roots ‘Very Much Intact’

    At 80, Singer-Songwriter Leonard Cohen’s Jewish Roots ‘Very Much Intact’

    JNS.org – Eighty years young, Leonard Cohen fits many descriptions—singer, songwriter, poet, novelist, monk. From his Jewish upbringing in Canada to the present day, Cohen has always explored his spiritual side. This month, the singer-songwriter released the CD (May 12) and iTunes (on May 8 of this year) formats of his latest album, Can’t Forget: A Souvenir of the Grand Tour, which features live recordings from his world tours in 2012 and 2013. Last year, Cohen’s Popular Problems was voted by Rolling Stone [...]

    Read more →
  • Europe Sports FIFA Head Says Israel Should Not be Booted From World Soccer Association

    FIFA Head Says Israel Should Not be Booted From World Soccer Association

    JNS.org – Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) head Sepp Blatter said during a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that contrary to Palestinian complaints, Israel has not violated any FIFA statutes and should not be suspended from international soccer’s governing body. “We should not come to one federation saying we will exclude them,” said Blatter, the Jerusalem Post reported. “If the national association is fulfilling its obligations then there is no need to intervene,” he said. “I’m on a [...]

    Read more →
  • Featured Middle East Sports Jewish Rights Group Slams Palestinian Attempts to Suspend Israel From FIFA

    Jewish Rights Group Slams Palestinian Attempts to Suspend Israel From FIFA

    Jewish human rights group the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) said on Tuesday it was “appalled” by a Palestinian Football Association initiative to suspend Israel from FIFA, calling it another “front waged in the context of the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign.” “We are appalled at the temerity of the Palestinan Football Association (PFA) demand that FIFA suspend Israel at your forthcoming Congress in Zurich,” wrote the group’s international relations director, Dr. Shimon Samuels, in a letter to FIFA President Joseph [...]

    Read more →
  • Theater US & Canada Star of Auschwitz Thriller Says ‘God Was Holding the Hand of Every Jew in the Gas Chamber’ (VIDEO)

    Star of Auschwitz Thriller Says ‘God Was Holding the Hand of Every Jew in the Gas Chamber’ (VIDEO)

    The lead actor in Son of Saul, an Auschwitz thriller featured at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, told the UK’s The Guardian that he believes God was “holding the hand” of each Jew who died in the Nazi gas chambers during the Holocaust. “I do not for one nanosecond like to pretend that God is off the hook. He could and should have stopped it at a much earlier stage,” Géza Röhrig, 48, said. ”But I would not be able to get [...]

    Read more →
  • Music Backstreet Boys Singer Howie D Gushes Over Masada During Israel Trip

    Backstreet Boys Singer Howie D Gushes Over Masada During Israel Trip

    Backstreet Boys singer Howie Dorough took to Instagram on Tuesday to marvel about climbing the famed Masada fortress with his band during their visit to Israel, where they will perform this week for the first time. The group’s second day of sightseeing in the Jewish state included the Masada hike, and taking a mud bath at the Dead Sea. A picture from the band’s official Twitter page shows the five singers covered in mud. While relaxing in the Dead Sea, [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews US & Canada ‘Arms and the Dudes:’ New Book, Film Detail How Ex-Orthodox Yeshiva Guys Became Top Suppliers for Afghan Army

    ‘Arms and the Dudes:’ New Book, Film Detail How Ex-Orthodox Yeshiva Guys Became Top Suppliers for Afghan Army

    A new book and its upcoming film adaptation tell the true story of how three former yeshiva students who habitually smoked marijuana scored a $300 million contract from the U.S. government to supply weapons for the Afghan Army, the New York Daily News reported on Sunday. Arms and the Dudes details how the Miami Beach potheads became “the most unlikely gunrunners in history,” according to the book’s author, investigative reporter Guy Lawson. The tale begins with Efraim Diveroli, nephew of [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Theater Natalie Portman: Israel-Themed ‘A Tale of Love and Darkness’ Not Political

    Natalie Portman: Israel-Themed ‘A Tale of Love and Darkness’ Not Political

    JNS.org – Natalie Portman, who directs and stars in the new Hebrew-language film adaptation of author Amos Oz’s A Tale of Love and Darkness, says that despite Oz’s record as a vocal left-wing critic of Israel, her film is not political. Like the book on which it is based, Portman’s film is about a young boy at the time of the founding of the state of Israel. “I think the movie is very much about this very particular, specific family story. Of [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.