They were so dedicated. I remember friends of my father and mother,
a couple of women, who when they called a department store downtown,
they would insist on talking Hebrew, in the hopes of convincing them to
hire a Hebrew-language operator. I mean they all spoke English. It was
real dedication. It had to be. How do you revive a dead language?
Was that what motivated you to live in Israel?
My wife and I were there in '53. We lived in a kibbutz for a while
and planned to stay, actually. I came back and had to finish my Ph.D.
We thought we'd go back.
Was it the idea of the kibbutz, or was it the fact of speaking Hebrew, or what was it?
It was political. I was interested in Hebrew, but that wasn't the
driving force. I liked the kibbutz life and the kibbutz ideals. It has
pretty much disappeared now, I should say. But that time was incredible
in spirit. For one thing it was a poor country. The kibbutz I went to,
and I picked it for this reason, was actually originally Buberite. It came from German refugees in the 1930s and had a kind of Buberite style. It was the center for Arab outreach activities in Mapam (a left-wing party, now deceased, affiliated with the kibbutz movement). There was plenty of racism, I should say. I lived with it. But mostly against Mizrahim (Jews from Arab countries).
When you think of the motivations of people like your
parents or the people who founded those Mapam kibbutzim, you don't
think of those motivations as being inherently linked to some desire to
By then I was old enough to separate from my parents. I'd been on my
own intellectually since I was a teenager. I gravitated toward Zionist
groups that were not in their milieu, like Hashomer Hatzair.
My father grew up in Hashomer.
I could never join Hashomer because in those days they were split
between Stalinist and Trotskyite, and I was anti-Leninist. But I was in
the neighborhood. It was a Hashomer kibbutz that we went to, Kibbutz Hazorea.
It's changed a lot. We would never have lasted. It was sort of a mixed
story. They were binationalists. So up until 1948 they were anti-state.
There were those who gravitated toward or who were involved in efforts
of Arab-Jewish working-class cooperation and who were for socialist
binationalist Palestine. Those ideas sound exotic today, but they
didn't at the time. It's because the world has changed.
But there was an element of oppression I couldn't get around. If you
know the history, you know that most idealistic anti-nationalist
settlers insisted on a closed Hebrew society, you can't hire outside
labor, that sort of thing. You could see the motivation. They didn't
want to become what the first settlers were: landowners who had cheap
Arab labor. They wanted to work the land. Nevertheless, there's an
exclusionary character to it. Which then led into the policy of the
state and became quite ugly later. So it was kind of an internal
conflict that was never resolved.