on November 17, 2013
Jews have been praying for "next year in Jerusalem" for 2,000 years. Finally, thanks to these paratroopers Jerusalem is captured in the 1967 war and is now the capital of Israel, although no other country has located its embassy there. Some paratroopers are religious and see the expansion of Israel into the conquered lands of the 1967 war as a logical and a religious duty. Others want to return these lands (Sinai, Golan Heights and Judea/ Samaria) as fast as possible and so it continues today.
The author chooses a small group of paratroopers, who have political views from all 360 degrees (including one IDF soldier who all but joins the Arabs against Israel and is imprisoned when caught) to capture the various political positions of the Israeli people as a whole.
If the book had 5 volumes, then various other ethnic, political and religious Jews would be represented. For Instance, kibbutz members are prominent but the word Moshav never appears. Both these forms of living arrangements are still extant in Israel with roughly an equal number of members. Moshe Dayan was from a Moshav. Ashkenazi Jews are the center of attention and other volumes could deal with Sephardic and Mizrahi elements.
Instead of writing 550 pages of the differences of opinion among Israelis toward Jerusalem, war, settlements etc. that would read like a typical top down history, the author lets you get to know a few individuals so that you see the conflicts Israelis have amongst themselves - from the bottom up so to speak.
Whatever your views on the current situation in Israel, you are presented with a wide array of viewpoints that are strongly held by these courageous soldiers. These viewpoints are often diametrically opposite, but the reader gains perspectives they may not have considered.
on October 8, 2013
"Like Dreamers" is the non-fiction "War and Peace" of the Jewish people, and the modern Jewish State. As Tolstoy etched an epic portrait of Russian society in his classic novel, Yossi Klein Halevi also works on a giant historical canvas. And like all great story tellers, he understands that the best way to tell history is through the individuals who live through and often author that history.
This stunning volume traces the lives of seven paratroopers from the 55th, the brigade that was the tip of the spear in the '67 battle for Jerusalem, and later the brigade that crossed the Suez Canal in the '73 Yom Kippur War, thereby turning disaster into victory. There are left-wing peace activists, and religious Zionists, kibbutz socialists, free market entrepreneurs, a gruff conceptual artist who was wounded in the battle for Jerusalem, a neurotic but brilliant musician--Israel's Bob Dylan--who died far too young, and a traitor who went to Syria in order to join anti-Israel terrorists. These men, in one way or another, played a vital role in the birth of the post-Six Day War Israel.
The title "Like Dreamers" comes from Psalm 126, Shir Hamaalot, hayinu k'cholmim, "When the Lord returned the exiles to Zion, we were like dreamers."
The spine of Halevi's book is that Israel's fate is based on two conflicting utopian dreams within the Zionist movement, the religious Zionists, and the secular left-wing kibbutzniks. These men--all Ashkenazi Jews--fought together to defend the state of Israel, and then between wars, these same men, some of them close friends, continued to fight to preserve their personal vision of the Jewish State.
If you want to understand modern Israel in all its glorious complexity, this is the book to read. A great work that sets a new standard for Jewish history.
on October 28, 2013
Probably the best book I've read in years. No matter how much you read or know about what makes Israel 'tick', this book gives you that inside out perspective. The format forces you to pay attention though, and it's probably best to read in a few days if you can. Highly recommend.
on August 29, 2014
This is a character study of seven remarkable Israeli paratroopers who were instrumental in the reunification of Jerusalem during the Six-Day War in June 1967 and the trailblazing roles they played in shaping modern Israel, for good or for bad, over the next 37 years. Chapters deal with the hero of 1967 Moshe Dayan's abject failure to appreciate the ominous warning signs ahead of the near-fatal 1973 Yom Kippur War, Anwar Sadat's momentous 1977 visit and the peace treaty which followed, Ariel Sharon's disastrous 1982 invasion of Lebanon, the pernicious effects of the settler movement, the first and second intifadas, trying to deal with the duplicitous Yasser Arafat, and Israel's emergence into an economic and military powerhouse.
The problem with Halevi's book is the desultory and plodding manner in which so much of the historical and biographical detail is presented. I had to force myself to finish the book, which I succeeded in doing, but I hesitate to recommend it to others.
on January 21, 2014
I have visited Israel. I have Israeli friends. I have Palestinian friends. (This is inevitable if you spend any significant time in Israel, I hope.) I come from a partly-Jewish family of Israelophiles. I have studied, pondered, wondered and worried about that country. Physically so beautiful, politically so pyrotechnic, culturally so divided. Ultimately so crazy. Terrifyingly unsustainable. "Like Dreamers" does the best job of presenting myriad Israeli dilemmas on a human scale of anything I have read. It does not provide what we would typically consider comfort, but it does provide a measure of understanding of how different men grew to have wildly divergent views of the just aims of a nation. There are no monsters, here. These are ordinary men of varying gifts who are honorable in their different ways, with their different values.
This is a wonderful, wonderful work. It should be read.
on October 1, 2013
Totally magical and realistic at the same time. The book embraces you with its detailed novelistic portraits of events and characters. Reading it I marveled at my ignorance of events that I thought I knew and gained an appreciation for having lived through momentous times.
on April 6, 2014
Having met and spoken with the author within my own professional capacity, I came to the book with a very high regard of his intellect and integrity. At the same time, I was hoping for more analysis and depth and even some message for where things stand today in Israeli society vis a vis our almost 50 years of control over the "Territories". For knowledgeable readers, the book adds interesting vignettes and personal insights of the main protagonists. For the uninitiated, the book can be confusing. For some reason, Halevy chose common Hebrew or Jewish terminology, with the expectation that every reader would understand (perhaps he did not have that expectation...). As an educator, that bothered me. Beyond that, I didn't feel as though I had any takeaway after finishing the book. I was not left with questions or thoughts about the subject. It was easy to move on. This is in complete contrast to the book I had just previously read - Ari Shavit's - "My Promised Land". Whether I agreed with or accepted his thesis or some of it, the result of the book was to get me thinking, arguing, talking about it, etc. None of those responses appeared following my completion of Halevy's book. For me, that was disappointing. It is possible that readers without a deep background on the events and stories covered in this book will learn a lot about the players, the ideas and the souls of the people of Israel. In the very least, the book is written well, making it a "good read". But sorry, for me that is not enough.
on April 25, 2014
There is much to like - admire - about this book, but ultimately I found it disappointing. Mr. Halevi does a wonderful job in the first third to first half, dramatically narrating the re-conquest of Jerusalem by the Israeli Defense Forces (specifically, the paratroopers of the subtitle) and the choices facing Israel following the dramatic increase in its size and population diversity. The individual characterizations are sharply drawn without impeding the sweep of history.
However, the second half of the book, which is really the more important half, is marred by constant shifting back and forth between the individuals and their lives post-conquest, and how those lives reflected (and were changed by) Israel's circumstances and the rise of worldwide sympathy for the Palestinian cause. At first, it was a matter of constantly readjusting gears as he switches between the sagas of the individuals, but at some point it just become frustrating that the line of each person's life stops and we pick up with someone else, only to experience the same thing later on. There are some wonderful moments throughout the book, but I found the constant switching hard to take - even though I can't think of a better way to do it, as the individuals' lives kept interacting over time.
A worthwhile read, but a difficult one.
on November 14, 2013
This is an exceptional book that explains the history and politics of Israel and Palestine through the lives of a group of soldiers who fought in the Six Day and Yom Kippur Wars. This book gave me a detailed appreciation of the deep divisions within Israeli society and politics, how these antagonisms arose, and how they account for the current difficult state of affairs concerning the rights and aspirations of a large Palestinian population. However, this is not a dry academic tome on the subject, but rather a fascinating account of how a few individuals from very diverse and humble backgrounds shaped the course of modern Israel. In particular, the genesis of the problematic West Bank settlement movement is described very lucidly through the personal experiences of the main characters. This should be required reading for anyone interested in Israeli history, politics and current affairs.
on November 22, 2013
This book is not just the story of the Paratroopers who reunited Jerusalem. Through their eyes the reader is able to understand the conflict in the Middle East, not just the seemingly intractable push/pull of the Arab-Israeli struggle, but the internecine social and religious strife among Israelis.
Each story of the members of the paratroop brigade is richly drawn. The reader sees them during war and during the periods of uneasy peace- regular call up of the reserves, training, preparing for war and how that impacts on their lives The book fleshes out the background of the settler movement and how it has impacted the attempt to achieve peace.Religious extremism, the Intifada, both the first and second, it's all here. The extreme interpretation of Jewish text and how that text lead to the death of Prime Minister Rabin is explored. For those of us who have grown up listening to the heroic stories of the kibbutzniks, it is interesting to read about whether the movement remains relevant today.
Whether it is the small size of the country or its population, it is fascinating to read about the thread that binds these paratroopers through political infighting or religious disputations.
The book, while lengthy, provides unique insight into the lives and struggles of people who have sought to build a home in a pretty tough neighborhood..
For those who want an interesting and thoroughly readable piece that informs and makes daily headlines more understandable, this book is the one.
Stephen Ira Tamber