Sunday, April 19, 2009

Homeland: The Best History of the State of Israel Possible

Well do I remember my father bringing home a grey hardcover book about Israel with a bunch of smiling kids on the cover and attempting to make me read it.

Me, the kid who reads everything. I was about 13 or so at the time. And yet I could not get through this book.

I tried, in order to please him. But I could not. It was absolutely impossible. That's because the book was deeply boring, exceedingly uninteresting. There was nothing to capture the imagination, nothing to allow me to visualize the growth of the State. And from that point onward, my illiteracy about the State of Israel grew.

Oh, I vaguely knew that there was this man named Theodor Herzl who was somewhat important, and Chaim Weizmann figured into things somewhere, and I had read enough of the Rav's works to know his view on Zionism, but I really didn't understand how this had all happened, how the rise to create a Jewish state began, how one event followed the next.

And then came an amazing book entitled Homeland: The Illustrated History of the State of Israel.

This is a book published by Nachshon Press in 2007. It is good. By this, I mean really, really good, like fantastically good, like I read-the-whole-book-in-one-sitting-and-did-not-move-from-the-chair good. And I now have an excellent working knowledge of how one event followed the next and how the state of Israel was formed. I could not give it higher praise if I tried.

To begin with, the book starts all the way back at the beginning of the Creation of the World, then follows the biblical account of how the land of Israel was given to Abraham, and works from there all the way up to a modern-day version of how the State of Israel was created. The style is that of a professor speaking to students, so that relevant questions are "asked" by students and "answered" by the professor. The book is exceedingly objective, citing facts where possible, and different versions of events when necessary. To top it all off, both the author and illustrator were exceedingly familiar with Medrish, which comes through in the exquisite, bright and fascinating drawings (which you can see if you click the link!) The book is easy-to-read because it is written almost in comic style, with the bright, lifelike pictures attracting most of the attention and the comic font adding relevant details. The best part about this book is how well it puts everything in order; all the stories flow from one another. There were so many places where I thought, "Oh, that's how it fits together," while reading this.

To give you an idea of how clear and easy this book makes things, let me produce for you their explanation of the different forms of Zionism on page 40, something which finally clarified terms for me.

RELIGIOUS ZIONISM: Although some traditional Jews oppose Zionism, rabbis are also among the movement's early activists. In 1834, Rabbi Yehuda Alkalai argues that a Jewish return to the land would help bring the Messiah. In 1862, Rabbi Zvi-Hirsch Kalischer writes Seeking Zion suggesting similar ideas.

SOCIALIST ZIONISM: Moses Hess publishes Rome and Jerusalem in 1862. A colleague of Marx, Hess is persuaded by Jew-hatred in Germany to embrace the concept of a Jewish state. Like him, many Zionist leaders want to fuse living in Palestine with socialist ideals.

CULTURAL ZIONISM: Some hope to revitalize Palestine as a center of Jewish culture. Ahad Ha'Am (One of the People), the pen name of Asher Ginzberg (B. 1856), along with H.N. Bialik (B. 1873), the great Hebrew poet, represent this effort to create a new national Jewish life.

LABOR ZIONISM: A.D. Gordon (B. 1856) promotes Hebrew labor, the idea that working the land will transform the Jewish people. Gordon thinks of a relationship with nature in spiritual terms. When Jews rebuild the land, the land rebuilds the Jews.

POLITICAL ZIONISM: In 1881, Leon Pinsker, an assimilated Russian Jew, is alarmed by the outbreak of pogroms, officially sanctioned violent attacks against Jews. He calls for Jewish self-emancipation. A similar story begins at the 1894 trial of Alfred Dreyfus, a French-Jewish army captain falsely accused of spying for Germany. Theodor Herzl covers the trial as an Austrian Journalist. Shocked at the animosity the trial provokes against Jews, he begins to campaign intensively for a Jewish territory.

Another amazing example of how well this book was made is the fact that when the illustrator drew Moshe on Mount Nebo looking out onto the land, he drew the faint outline of skyscrapers, as Israel is in modern-day society. This is obviously taken from the Midrash that Moshe saw far into the future and knew all that Israel would become.

This Yom Ha'Atzmaut, if you are looking for an avenue of educating your children (or if you are looking to educate yourself), purchase a copy of Homeland. It is probably one of the best books you will ever read in your life.

1 comment:

Charlie Hall said...

I think that it is signficant that Religious Zionism is actually *older* than other Zionist philosophies.