Toldot:  Israel Since ‘67: Like Dreamers

D’var Torah for 11/1/13


When God returned the exiles of Zion,

we were like dreamers.

Then our mouths filled with laughter,

    And our tongues with songs of joy.

Then they said among the nations:

    “The Eternal has done great things for them.”

The Eternal has done great things for us.


These are the words we recite on Shabbat before Birkat ha Mazon, the blessing after eating.  They come from Psalm 126, a psalm that imagined the great joy the Jewish people would experience upon being restored to the land.


In 1967, Israeli paratroopers, quite unexpectedly, beat back Egypt, Syria, and Jordan in only six days.  The Jordanians were holding the Old City of Jerusalem and within it the Temple Mount, where today’s Dome of the Rock is located.


For the first time in two millennia the Temple Mount was in the hands of a living Jewish state.


At the time it was considered miraculous.


Hanan Porat, who the founder of the first West Bank settlement, Kfar Etzion said on June 7, 1967 “We are writing the next chapter of the Bible.”


Unknown to the paratroopers who captured the Old City, they were sowing the seeds of the past 45 years of difficulties within Israeli society.


Questions that are reflected in the statement that “Neither side of an ideological divide has a monopoly on patriotism or political wisdom, and the greatest threat may be when a nation becomes embittered against itself."

A majority don't see 'greater Israel' or utopian peace in their nation's future.

This is because the assumptions that came about in the aftermath of 1967 raised a whole host of existential questions that are impossible to answer convincingly, such as:


(1)    Does Jewish redemption mean ruling over another population,

namely one of 1.5 million Arabs?


(2)    Do Jews have the right to Greater Israel as understood from Biblical



(3)    Do Jews have the right to be a normal nation as an antidote to

anti-Jewish (anti-Semitism?) of other nations?


(4)    Does Zionism endure when it is driven by secular values versus

religious ones?


(5)    Are humans able to create fair environments for survival, such as the

kibbutzim built on socialist values, or is this only the power for

creating a fair world that of God?  Or is it somewhere in-between?


(6)     Does retaking a piece of land indicate that it is what God actually

wants to happen?  And how does one know if it is or is not?


You get the idea:  most of these questions deeply penetrate the modern wonder known as the State of Israel.


This amazing place, the refuge of Jews from the embers of Europe, as well as Morocco, Yemen, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iraq, and Russia among other countries, this blending of people whose only commonality is that they are Jewish, wanting to have a normal life--have a home, get an education, go to the grocery store, hang out in parks and beaches.  


Israel remains a great work in progress.  So many values clash in this tiny country that it brings to mind the old joke: two Jews, three opinions.  Try it in a country with seven million Jews.


Illustrating these conflicts beautifully is a new book written by Yossi Klein Halevi, a man who moved to Israel and now lives in Jerusalem.  The book is titled “Like Dreamers,” a quotation from Psalm 126, the psalm we recite before Birkat Ha Mazon on Shabbat.


He writes that the Jerusalem that he encountered in the summer of 1967 when he visited with his father the Naomi Shemer song “Yerushalayim Shel Zahav”--Jerusalem of Gold--he heard an amended version called “Jerusalem of iron, of lead and of blackness,” an attempt to remind a euphoric nation of the price of victory”  written by one of the paratroopers, Meir Ariel.  That price included the incredible loss of Israeli life, both in the 67 action and in its aftermath.


Ariel was one of four Kibbutzniks profiled in Like Dreamers.  These are people who grew up in idealized social experiments that were the early kibbutzim in Israel, believing in shared labor and shared living, communal decision making, a return to the land.  


The Religious Zionist paratroopers saw the events of 1967 in terms of a religious restoration to the land, fulfillment of God’s promise--to these paratroopers it was a kind of Divine Intervention in the history of human affairs that led to a victory.  It was a sign of the possible coming of a Messiah or a Messianic Era.


And therein lies the conflict:  the kibbutzniks, secular, and the religious zionists, religious.  Put another way:  what was the true narrative for what happened in 1967 and after?


The author describes this as that he is telling the story of Israel’s competing utopian dreams--and how the Israel symbolized by the kibbutz became the Israel symbolized by the settlement.  The instincts clash in how to be Jewish in the Jewish state.


Klein Halevi  writes that among the religious Zionists paratroopers who took Jerusalem in 67, one founded the first West Bank Settlement, while another became the settlement movement’s great heretic.  Among the kibbutzniks, one helped found Peace Now and then abandoned the movement, convinced that peace with the Palestinians was impossible anytime soon.   Both sides moved, dramatically from their original premise.


This book goes into exhaustive detail of these competing values.


Perhaps the nadir was when a Jewish person, Yigal Amir, assassinated Yitzhak Rabin, the prime minister of Israel, in 1995, at a peace rally.


From that moment forward there was and continues to be a deep self-examination of the fundamental values that were motivating both the secular and religious Zionists, in other words, Jewish Israelis who populate the Jewish State.


The book’s conclusions reflects where Israel is today:  not having many “friends” in the world; Palestinians represented by the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, neither being trustworthy to negotiate with;  the security wall which since its building has dramatically reduced the war in the streets, the suicide bombings that made daily life in Israel untenable while Israel’s enemies demonize it as apartheid.  


The utopian visions--a normal people in a normal country--are being replaced by geopolitical realities that Israel is a modern nation, needing to be defended, and that the original idea that it was ushering in a Messianic times requires reconsideration.


Like Dreamers is now in the ICM Library.  It is an amazing read, and I encourage all of you to find the time to go deeper into the Israeli psyche through the author’s vivid prose.   

© 2017- 2019

Rabbi David Novak