Page 74 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 51

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66
JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
AFTERMATH OF WAR
The Zionist obligation enjoins the “great love” in Amichai’s
poem, the love of nation that transcends the personal and in­
dividual, the obligation to fight and die for country which
Amichai satirized in an earlier collection
Shirei Eretz Tziyon ve-
Yerushalayim.
After the war the obligation lost its potency and
appeared to disintegrate, leading to confusion and pain. The
nature of the post-1948 despair has frequently been debated.
Early writers rather naively attributed it to disappointment in
the corrupt and materialistic society that had resulted from the
monumental achievement of statehood. This is, however, only
part of the argument. Young men and women whose adulthood
had been defined only by what lay between heroism and death,
who had to grow up very suddenly after losing their youth on
the battlefield, were distressed by the sudden need to settle
down in a society whose criteria were those of the mundane
bourgeoisie. Also, the actual scale of losses in the War of In­
dependence, the destruction of a promising elite not unlike that
of World War I, together with the growing awareness of the
enormity of the Holocaust, led to a period of national depres­
sion, guilt, a sense of worthlessness and low self esteem. The
depression was generated by historical rather than sociopolitical
events or by the nation’s “corruption.” In
Asinu
Amichai con­
trasts
moladetenu
(our homeland) with
yaldutenu
(our childhood).
For many members of his pre-State generation childhood rep­
resented innocence, hope and the unspoilt landscape, all of
which were abruptly altered by the war.
Asinu
opens in a forest,
with a child picking mushrooms, and ends in a cinema, the
quintessence of urbanism and illusion, the absolute contrast to
the agrarian aspirations of the nation’s founders.
The preoccupation with memory is clearly enunciated in
Asinu.
Again the object or objects of the remembering and for­
getting are tantalizingly obscure. A clue is provided by the poet’s
claim that
yizkor
(the title of a prayer), has been replaced by
nishkah,
“we shall forget” or “forgotten.” This implies a collective
movement away from both a generalized memory and a precise
memory related to Jewish tradition. In the light of Amichai’s
previous verse which accented his spokesman’s defiant denial
of religion, a defiance that was itself a mask for ambivalence,
it is difficult not to read “
yizkor
” as an echo of that conflict.