Page 48 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 43

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
waiflike creature who has not gotten over a tragic abortion in­
sisted on by Yonatan that has left her childless and living in a fan­
tasy world of her own making; with his parents Yolek and Chava,
whose idealistic devotion to the kibbutz and the Labor movement
has been at the expense of any genuine relationship with their
own children; and with the kibbutz itself, from whose hermetic,
asphyxiating atmosphere he longs to get away and go overseas.
Indeed, the opening paragraph of the novel tells us that, “In the
winter of 1965 Yonatan Lifshitz decided to leave his wife and the
kibbutz on which he was born and raised. He made up his mind
to take off and begin a new life.”
Yet before Yonatan can depart a newcomer arrives in the
kibbutz, a homeless young Holocaust survivor named Azariah
Gitlin, who is in many ways Yonatan’s opposite. Azariah is
nervous, excitable, and high-strung; a compulsive talker whose
verbal gifts are used to cover up deep feelings of inferiority ; an
am b itious would-be in te llec tua l who, de sp ite his spotty
education, has taught himself not only to read, but actually to en­
joy reading, Spinoza; and above all, an almost atavistically ideal­
istic young man who has come to the kibbutz because he thinks
that he will find there — a belief that strikes Yonatan as unspeak­
ably comic — the community of Jewish brotherly love that he
dreams of living in. In short, he is a type of the Diaspora Jew no
less than Yonatan is of the Israeli — which is why Yonatan’s fa­
ther Yolek, a Labor Party politician and ideologue who is openly
contemptuous of the younger generation of native-born Israelis
that he has helped to raise, takes an instant liking to him. (Yolek’s
despair over the “normalization”of the Jewish character in Israel,
which has in his opinion produced a new, de-sensitized, and pe­
culiarly brainless type of Jew, is the subject of a long, soul-
searching letter that he pens to Prime Minister Levi Eshkol in a
chapter that is one of the tour de forces of contemporary Hebrew
prose — and perhaps the most scathing fictional diatribe by a Zi­
onist against Zionism since Yudka’s monologue in Hazaz’s
The
Sermon.
And as is the case with Yudka, we are given the option of
taking Yolek with a grain of salt, for he is emotionally distraught
and is drinking too much brandy as he writes — a fact of which he
is well-aware himself, since he decides not to mail the letter in the
end.)
Suprisingly, however, Yonatan and Azariah hit it off well to­
gether. Each is attracted to his own opposite in the other: Azariah