In 1948, as Israel was heading into its first war, an IDF general sent a letter to David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s new prime minister, thanking him for the offer of chief of staff, but politely declining because he had learned that the Jewish State only had six million bullets. “We will need 1 million bullets a day in a war and I am not willing to be chief of staff for just six days,” he wrote.
“The restoration of Hebrew,” writes Lewis Glinert, professor of Hebrew studies at Dartmouth College, “was an act without precedent in linguistic and sociopolitical history.” And as his valuable new book, The Story of Hebrew, demonstrates, it was a conscious decision by Jews who decided that if they were going to make it out of the Diaspora, their language was going to make it, too. So successful were the “guardians of Hebrew’s textual memory,” that when the time came to restore Hebrew as a spoken tongue after two millennia, they did so, in Glinert’s words, “almost overnight.”
In 2012, Wired Magazine named Cody Wilson one of the “15 Most Dangerous People in the World.” At first glance, it was a surprising choice on a list that included the likes of Bashar al-Assad and “El Chapo” Guzman. At the time Wilson was a 24-year-old University of Texas law student. What made Wilson so dangerous was that he was working on a 3D printable gun, the digital files of which he then planned to distribute to anyone who wanted them.
“The Ugandists and the Territorialists are jumping up on chairs, shouting furiously at the President; their faces are distorted … the electric lights in the hall are turned off … The noise and tumult continue for a long time in the dark hall,” wrote Russian Zionist leader Leib Jaffe, describing the scene at the Seventh Zionist Congress on July 28, 1905.
In Who Stole My Religion? Richard H. Schwartz accuses his fellow Orthodox Jews of stealing Judaism—even as he attempts to hijack it for his own environmentalist creed.
A man who fell in love with progressive politics first and Orthodox Judaism second, Schwartz married the two in his mind and is now frustrated that the shidduch—or love match—won’t take hold in the larger community. The roughly 10 percent of Jews who are Orthodox are stubbornly conservative. Schwartz laments that, while an overwhelming 78 percent of all Jews went for Barack Obama in 2008, an almost identical percentage of Orthodox Jews voted for John McCain. Given that Schwartz praises Judaism for its heritage of non-conformity (starting with Abraham), he might have celebrated the Orthodox for going their own way. But no, Schwartz seeks 100 percent Jewish support for the current pieties of the left wing of the Democratic Party.
It’s refreshing, in a world rife with anti-Zionist propaganda, to read a book written by someone who actually thinks Israel was a good, indeed a grand idea. Daniel Gordis describes the Jews’ return to their homeland as “one of the great dramas” of human history—the story “of a homeless people that kept a dream alive for millennia, of a people’s redemption from the edge of the abyss, of a nation forging a future when none seemed possible.” From a collection of “vulnerable settlements,” Gordis describes how Israel grew into a flourishing country with the largest Jewish population in the world using a revived language that even the founder of Zionism believed could not be resuscitated.
With the passing of Shimon Peres at the age of 93, two very different men died. The first was young, pragmatic and tough-minded, skilled in negotiation and focused on building Israel’s military strength. The second was older, a dreamer, resolutely focused on a vision of peace that proved stubbornly impervious to reality.
Go to a library and toss a coin at the Israel shelf. You’re almost certain to bounce it off a title critical of the Jewish state. The latest contribution to this death by a thousand books is Zionism: The Birth and Transformation of an Ideal by journalist Milton Viorst. At the heart of this book is the assumption that Israel is wholly to blame for the conflict between Jews and Arabs.
The Angel by Uri Bar-Joseph is a book that should be required reading—as a terrible warning—for everyone involved in intelligence. It is the tale of how an intelligence agency, despite having the best information imaginable, can still get it wrong. Bar-Joseph recounts how, prior to the Yom Kippur War of 1973 when Israel suffered a near-fatal blow, Israel had been given detailed knowledge of Egypt’s plans thanks “to an exceptionally rare situation in the history of espionage: the direct assistant to the leader of a country preparing to launch an attack on its enemy was a secret agent on behalf of that enemy.”
In Pumpkin Flowers, Matti Friedman provides a brief, finely written account of an army outpost in Israel’s security zone in southern Lebanon in the 1990s and the men who served there. ‘Pumpkin’ was the outpost’s name, while ‘flowers’ was the Israeli army’s code word for wounded soldiers. The term, writes Friedman, reflects “a floral preoccupation in our military intended to bestow beauty on ugliness and to allow soldiers distance from the things they might have to describe.” The Pumpkin itself was far from poetic, a “rectangle of earthen embankments the size of a basketball court” where there was “nothing unnecessary to the purposes of allowing you to kill, preventing you from being killed, and keeping you from losing your mind in the meantime.”