Recovered Roots: Collective Memory and the Making of Israeli National Tradition
By Yael Zerubavel
University Of Chicago Press, 1995, 340 pp.
Jewish State or Israeli Nation?
By Boas Evron
Indiana University Press, 1995, 269 pp.
All states create founding myths and traditions that become part of collective memory. Israel in particular has developed a distinctive national reading of Jewish history that focuses on antiquity and the modern period of state-building while devaluing the centuries of exile. These two remarkable books by Israeli scholars tackle different aspects of the creation of modern Zionism as an ideology and a basis for identity.
Zerubavel's highly original work examines three events that have been given importance in the construction of modern Zionist identity: Masada, the Bar Kokhba Revolt, and the battle of Tel Hai. In each case she shows how meanings were read into these events, commemorative histories were developed, and counternarratives were suppressed. These historical moments, along with the Holocaust, are markers for the transition from antiquity to exile and back from exile to statehood. As Israel has become increasingly secure and pluralistic, she notes, renewed controversy has arisen about some of these founding myths, and multiple narratives now exist. So successful has Zionism been in creating the predominantly Jewish state of Israel and in mobilizing support for it from Jews around the world that we rarely hear voices that question the Zionist enterprise. And when we do, they often come from either the ultra-Orthodox extreme or the ranks of the far left.
It is therefore a remarkable experience to read Evron's thoughtful book. He finds much to criticize in the conventional reading of Jewish history and argues that Israel should be thought of not as a state for the Jewish people but as a territorial state much like others, with full rights for all its inhabitants. Evron acknowledges that as long as the members of the Jewish diaspora lived in precarious conditions and the state of Israel was under siege it was difficult for Zionism to evolve beyond its initial formulations. But with peace coming to the region and with assimilation the norm for many Jews living outside Israel, it is time, he believes, for Israel to realize the dream of its founders--to become a normal secular state. It is precisely the plasticity of collective memories, as illustrated in Zerubavel's book, that gives Evron reason to hope that a post-Zionist ideological framework for all Israelis could gain a following.