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Halevi sees these two movements as parallel forces. “The founders of the kibbutz movement in the early years of the twentieth century envisioned the future Jewish state as a laboratory for democratic egalitarianism,” he writes. “Many religious Zionists believed that the creation of a Jewish state would be the catalyst for the messianic era.” “Like Dreamers” — whose title is taken from Psalm 126, about the return of “the exiles of Zion” — is therefore “a story about the fate of Israel’s utopian dreams.”
At one ideological extreme is Udi Aviv, a reluctant paratrooper who traveled to Damascus in 1972 “to help create an anti-Zionist terrorist underground.” Arrested by authorities, Aviv became a notorious traitor and served 12 years in prison, emerging chastened, emotionally distant, and a student of political science rather than an activist.
Aviv, though, is an exception to Halevi’s mostly admirable cast of characters. Among the religious Zionists, Halevi focuses most intensely on Yoel Bin-Nun, a founder of the Gush Emunim (Bloc of the Faithful) settlement movement. Bin-Nun would become an unlikely ally and prod to Labor Party Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. And he would turn critical of his fellow settlers after Rabin’s 1995 assassination by an Orthodox Jewish nationalist.
Among veterans of the kibbutz movement are Achmon, an entrepreneur with a capitalist bent; Meir, who would first win notice with his Six Day War ballad, “Jerusalem of Iron”; and Geva, who would become a Peace Now activist.
Like a novelist who inhabits all his characters, Halevi doesn’t openly declare his allegiances. But he comes across as an apostle of moderation, and an empathetic observer of the various warring camps. He holds out hope that the divisions between left and right, and between secular and religious Jews, can be fluid — that, at least at the level of the individual, change and compromise are possible.
In the end, Halevi glosses Israel’s possibilities through the political evolution of Bin-Nun, who realizes that “the new dreams of Zion — socialist perfection, the wholeness of the land, even the seemingly modest dream of normalizing the Jews as a nation among nations — had each successively faltered.” And through his protagonist, he suggests this modestly hopeful response: “Weren’t the dreams that had been fulfilled in some sense enough?”
Julia M. Klein is a cultural reporter and critic in Philadelphia and a contributing editor at Columbia Journalism Review. Follow her on Twitter @JuliaMKlein