Wednesday, December 09, 2009

'Infiltration' by Yehoshua Kenaz

Some of you know that I have worried over my connection or lack of connection to the land of Israel for some time. Until I discovered precisely the difficulty. I had somehow expected a miraculous resonance to occur simply when I placed my hand upon a wall, but that's not how you fall in love with a country. At least it's not how I fall in love with a country. I fall in love with a country through learning of its people and its heritage through books. In fact, I can fall in love with most anything or anyone if only I learn to see them deeply enough.

In any case, I discovered the book when it comes to Israel and the IDF. Because think about that for a moment. Here are all these high-school graduates who have mandatory service in the army. What is that like, to be placed together with people you don't know and suddenly have to live with them? What about the clash if you are Sephardi or Ashkenazi, religious or secular, and so on and so forth? What does living in a country that has enforced service do to a person? How does it affect them? I've been fascinated by various friends' accounts of the IDF. Sure, there's the version we all know- glory and ideological parties. But what about the truth? When you're down in the muck and grit and grime, when you're actually there, what do you get up to? How do you relax or alternatively stay alert? Are you ashamed of aspects of yourself or not? What do you see through the prism of that experience?

A Separate Peace, All Quiet on the Western Front, The Red Badge of Courage...I've always loved war books, the kind that got inside of people and showed me how they felt and what they thought in terms of their experience. And then I found this book. You see, what Tim O' Brien's The Things They Carried did for Vietnam is what Yehoshua Kenaz's Infiltration does for the IDF. It's remarkable and powerful and resonates; the blood pulsates in time to his writing. And for the outsider looking in, such as I am, it creates precisely that connection to Israeli society that I've been lacking, a glimpse of understanding into the people who comprise that world.


Gil Student said...

You might find Adjusting Sights by R. Haim Sabato interesting. It describes his experiences during the Yom Kippur War. Very emotional but also cerebral.

Mordechai Y. Scher said...

Hmmm, I'll have to look at Kenaz's book. As an old skeptic and IDF vet, I find lots of such books skewed pretty strongly by the author's bias.

I was going to recommend, like Gil, Rav Sabato's books. Read them in Ivrit. I've read the translations, which are pretty good; but they're nothing like the Ivrit. Not only are the narratives compelling in Ivrit; but his style is the best I've read since Agnon. Tium Kavanot/Adjusting Sights is the only reminiscence dealing with war. His other books deal with the Sefardi immigrant experience.

I learned by Rav Sabato's brother, Rav Shabtai Sabato. They both have an engaging manner, and very interesting personal stories with much insight into the Dati experience of life in Israel for their generation.

Also, see if you can get hold of a book called Et Ehai Anochi M'vakesh by Hanan Porat. Not about Tzahal per se (except for a few bits written in miluim), but a unique and almost poetic discussion of a emunah and Israel by a very sensitive soul.

If it is a war memoir you are interested in, read Avigdor Kahalanis's book. Oz 77 in Ivrit; The Heights of Courage in English. He was a commander in the Golan in the same battles of '73 that Rav Sabato writes about.

I haven't seen a personal book I like about my generation and our experiences in Levanon and other places in the 80s.

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