“There will be no utopia here. Israel will never be the ideal nation it set out to be, nor will it be Europe-away-from-Europe. There will be no London here, no Paris, no Vienna. But what has evolved in this land is not to be dismissed. A series of great revolts has created here a truly free society that is alive and kicking and fascinating. This free society is creative and passionate and frenzied. It gives the ones living here a unique quality of life: warmth, directness, openness… It is the youthful grace of the unbound and the uncouth…
There was hope for peace, but there will be no peace here. Not soon. There was hope for quiet, but there will be no quiet here. Not in this generation. The foundations of the home we founded are somewhat shaky, and repeating earthquakes rattle it. So what we really have in this land is an ongoing adventure. An odyssey. The Jewish state does not resemble any other nation. What this nation has to offer is not security or well-being or peace of mind. What it has to offer is the intensity of life on the edge. The adrenaline rush of living dangerously, living lustfully, living to the extreme. If a Vesuvius-like volcano were to erupt tonight and end our Pompeii, this is what it will petrify: a living people. People that have come from death and were surrounded by death but who nevertheless put up a spectacular spectacle of life. People who danced the dance of life to the very end.
I walk into the very same bar I walked into some weeks ago. Once again I sit by the bar and sip my single malt. I see the ancient port through the windows, and I watch people sitting in restaurants and walking into galleries and wandering about the pier. Bottom line, I think, Zionism was about regenerating Jewish vitality. The Israel tale is the tale of vitality against all odds. So the duality is mind-boggling. We are the most prosaic and prickly people one can imagine. We cannot stand puritanism or sentimentality. We do not trust high words or lofty concepts. And yet we take part daily in a phenomenal historical vision. We participate in an event far greater than ourselves.”
Excerpted from the conclusion of Ari Shavit’s 2013 book My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel. (In the top photo, a soldier casts a ballot yesterday at a mobile booth in the West Bank settlement of Migdalim.)
Of course it was Thomas More who coined the “utopia” (“no place”) in the early 16th century. Four hundred years later, in 1902, Theodore Herzl wrote a novel – sometimes recognized as the only utopian book ever to come true – that envisioned a future Jewish state’s founding in modern day Israel. It’s titled, fittingly, Altneuland (“The Old New Land”).
- “We are the people who sanctify life”: Jonathan Sacks on Israel
- Bellow’s brilliant, diptych reflection: “I sometimes think there are two Israels”
- Mark Twain on the Jews