Jerome A. Chanes |
Special To The Jewish Week
There have been surprisingly few books written about the history of the Zionist enterprise and about the success story of that enterprise, the State of Israel. Walter Laqueur’s 1972 “A History of Zionism” is magisterial, and Martin Gilbert’s 1998 “Israel: A History” is a frankly admiring portrait of the Jewish state, rich in detail; it reads as if it were the “official” biography of the state.
In America, the lines of debate on Israel are starkly drawn; respected intellectuals cross them at their peril. You need only look at the reputations of the late Tony Judt or Alan Dershowitz — accomplished scholars in their respective fields — whose outspoken views on Israel have become caricatures for either side of the debate: Judt, the anti-Zionist; Dershowitz, the pro-Israel hawk.
The same type of thing might have happened to Peter Beinart.
Fittingly, the story of how novelist Benjamin Taylor became the editor of the newly published collection of Saul Bellow’s letters begins with a letter. Not a letter between Bellow and Taylor, to be sure — they never knew each other, in fact — but a letter between Taylor and Philip Roth.
When the historian Rebecca Kobrin began researching her book “Jewish Bialystok and Its Diaspora,” which came out this spring, she was struck by the strange way Eastern European Jewish immigrants used words like “exile” and “diaspora.” Between 1880 and 1914, when most of America’s Jews came over from Europe, they did not speak about exile in terms of Israel, as we often do now. They used those words instead in relation to the places they actually left: Bialystok, Vilna, Warsaw, Lodz.