We had another full day of travel today, this time returning to Haifa, Israel’s largest port city with a series of upward climbing roads and clouded views that reminded me of San Francisco.
After a tasty sandwich and coffee, we walked around the Ba’Hai Temple and its spectacular gardens before heading north to Kibbutz Usha. Dunreith lived there in 1986 and 1987, and had not been on the premises in 20 years.
Fortunately, Anita, one of her best friends from that time, was still there and available to spend some time with us at the beginning of her shift at the kibbutz’s Optiplas factory.
We also walked to the kibbutz’s graveyard, where Mendel, Dunreith’s kibbutz father and a partisan during World War II, lies next to his wife Tzippora.
Nearly all of the country’s kibbutzes have changed almost completely-some would call it a near palimpsest-since their original days of claiming territory toward building the Jewish state Theodore Herzl envisioned after witnessing the Dreyfus trial in the mid-1890s. Not unlike the end of George Orwell’s Animal Farm, Usha now pays its workers wages, does not have collective child rearing, has dropped its payments for health insurance and are in the process of making the homes on the property privately owned.
Both Haifa and the kibbutzes appear in the books I have been reading about Israel. Martin Gilbert’s history of Israel had some material about the kibbutzes’ founders-Usha was heavy on Holocaust survivors, while others had more of an Eastern European flavor, not that the two categories are exclusive-while Collins and Lapierre’s O Jerusalem talks about the importance of Israelis securing Haifa while battles raged in other parts of the fledging nation like Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
I finished the seminal work yesterday, and must say with confidence that it is very likely to appear in my Top 10 list for 2009. Written in a cinematic style with a dizzying array of characters whirling in front of the reader, O Jerusalem conveys the epic drama, the pitched battles and the blood soaked land that resulted from what Israelis termed their War of Independence.
The authors tilt toward writing from a pro-Jewish and pro-Israeli perspective both in their inclusion of characters, in the narrative trajectory they adopt, and, some would argue, in their closing invocation of hoping for peace between the warring sides (Some pro-Palestinian people might say that stance is begging the question of moral accountability for the actions). That said, Collins and Lapierre neither back away from the history’s brutally unsavory moments, like the massacre and rapes at Deir Yassin, nor do they write in a triumphalist manner about Israeli’s coming into existence.
The book is absolutely rife with gripping details, whether it’s David Ben-Gurion crying for the first time in his adult life after denying a childhood friend’s request for guns to keep the people under his command alive, or Dov Joseph’s desperate plans for survival in Jerusalem as Abdullah Tell’s plan to squeeze the city into submission appears to be bearing fruit.
Collins and Lapierre’s work is essential background reading that I wish I had encountered when I was younger. I’ve started reading Robert Stone’s Damascus Gate at my mom’s cousin Gary and Amy Marcus’ recommendation, and the novel will be hard pressed to top O Jerusalem.