Where Is Israel of the Campfire Songs?

Haim Hefer's Voice Shaped Idealistic Jewish Generation

By J.J. Goldberg

Published September 24, 2012, issue of September 28, 2012.
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A lot of water has passed under the bridge since. We and Israel grew apart, like relatives whose monthly family brunches became yearly reunions and then just occasional exchanges of greeting cards. In America, a generation’s opposition to an unjust war hardened, for many, into an instinctive revulsion toward all war. Israelis went the opposite way, growing inured to the necessity of living by the sword.

Over the years we saw many of Israel’s foundational myths punctured. We learned that the pangs of Israel’s birth brought suffering to another people that had no part in the Jewish dream. We learned that not all Israelis shared Hefer’s mythos. Some had been reared on the harder-edged poetry of Uri Zvi Greenberg: “A land is conquered with blood / … And only one who follows after the cannon in the field / Thus wins the right to follow after his good plow….”

And we see a growing number drawing their inspiration from a literal reading of the ancient Psalmist: “Blessed is the Lord, my rock / who trains my hands for battle / … my shield, in whom I take shelter, / Who makes peoples subject to me…” And: “God will let me gloat over my watchful foes.”

It’s easy these days to listen to those rising voices from Israel that preach blood and subjugation, to watch the YouTube videos of soldiers and settlers mistreating farmers and demonstrators, and to think the Israel you believed in has vanished — if indeed it ever existed. It’s easy, too, to forget that the Israel we loved was founded at gunpoint, forged in blood and smoke by a generation that had just barely survived Hitler’s ovens. It’s easy in America today to believe that wars will end if we just wish them to.

But that’s a mistake. Haim Hefer’s death should remind us that the Israel he immortalized is still alive and still fighting for survival. It lives on in the soldiers who speak out for peace even while they wage war, in the young social-justice demonstrators camped out in the streets of Tel Aviv, in the poets, professors and rabbis who still preach love and not war. It doesn’t look quite the way anyone expected it to, but nothing ever does. And it needs our help, our faith and, above all, our love more than ever.

Contact J.J. Goldberg at goldberg@forward.com


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