How do you build a country? Through politics and governmental policies, or by the development of a national culture? Do national ideals come from ideological discourse, or are they created one step at a time through the way the citizens go about their daily lives?
In this very engaging book, Anat Helman shows us how the public culture created in Israel during the very vibrant, protean ‘50s grew out of all these factors, but particularly through the encounters and sensibilities of the people during the young country’s first years of statehood. With a careful hand and a sensitive ear, she recreates for us the daily practices of Israel’s inhabitants, reconstructing both the large events and small details of everyday experiences with equal focus.
Following ordinary Israelis as they lived their lives, she examines the society they were creating as they coped with the huge changes in the mainstream culture, changes that resulted from the national effort to provide groups of very diverse people with a homogeneous national identity.
She looks closely at the political authorities whose aim it was to make Hebrew the national language, and the limited success they achieved. She also investigates the effects of the abiding military presence that colored everyone’s daily life, and writes with color and cohesiveness about community life on the kibbutz. Throughout the book she keeps her eye on culture, focusing on the deprivation people were forced to accept through the necessity of rationing, and how they coped with the minimal transportation services available to them. The result is a book that demonstrates how the standards and rules put forth by the political and cultural leaders of Israel during the chaos of early statehood were reshaped and reworked by the ordinary people who looked to them for guidance but by no means felt they needed to swallow them whole. Whether pleasures or hardships, the events and activities that made up their everyday lives are described here in detail, and their significance is explained with clarity.
Helman writes with a happy melding of academic rigor and a light, humorous touch, blending her experience as a senior lecturer at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem with her very prominent human heart.
The book is part of the prestigious Shusterman Series in Israel Studies, which is known to publish original scholarship of exceptional significance on the history of Zionism and the State of Israel.
Linda F. Burghardt is a New York-based journalist and author who has contributed commentary, breaking news, and features to major newspapers across the U.S., in addition to having three non-fiction books published. She writes frequently on Jewish topics and is now serving as Scholar-in-Residence at the Holocaust Memorial & Tolerance Center of Nassau County.