By Rabbi David M. Sofian, Temple Israel, Special To The Dayton Jewish Observer
As you are reading this, once again I am studying in a program designed especially for rabbis, at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem.
This is an opportunity that I greatly look forward to every summer because it not only gives me the occasion to be stimulated by amazing teachers who help me broaden and deepen my Jewish knowledge, but to do it in the Jewish laboratory of Jerusalem.
Furthermore, as much as I learn from these wonderful teachers I learn even more from my rabbi peers while discussing the day’s texts and lessons in small hevruta, study groups. I have been privileged to study with truly insightful and talented colleagues over the last several summers.
Among all the great scholars that present every seminar, last year I had the opportunity to study with Yossi Klein Halevi, author of Like Dreamers, winner of the 2013 National Jewish Book Award.
He is a fellow at the institute. Frankly, given that I have often disagreed with him about his politics, I hesitated before signing up for this elective course based on his book. My doubt was over whether or not I wanted to be subjected to his politics (which I was sure would dominate the class) over several days.
I am truly grateful that I overcame that concern because contemporary politics did not dominate the course. Rather he and his book introduced me to aspects of Israeli history I didn’t already know and furthermore helped me understand developments in Israel that I had been struggling to comprehend.
Primarily that meant helping me understand who the religious Zionist settlers that built the early West Bank settlements were/are and how exactly their movement developed.
If you are interested in understanding the reality of Israel today, I can’t recommend this book to you more vigorously. I believe all lovers of Israel should read this book.
It is not a polemic arguing a political point of view. Rather in it you will learn things you didn’t know about the kibbutz movement, the nature of Israel’s peace movement, and, as I said above, for me most importantly, who the first settlers were.
You can even learn about the right-wing zealot (or should I say crazy person) who was arrested in the plot to blow up the Dome of Rock and a radical leftist who served 12 years in prison for his connections to an anti-Zionist terror underground in Damascus.
Halevi accomplishes all this in a single book by focusing on the 55th Paratrooper Brigade that took the Old City of Jerusalem in June 1967.
The brigade also played a key role in turning the tide to Israel’s favor in the Yom Kippur War of 1973.
Halevi follows Arik Ashmon, who not only favored Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 but became an important Israeli capitalist.
Ashmon was chief of intelligence for the 55th. From the same unit we get to know Yoel Bin-Nun, who was at the forefront of the settler movement.
Again, from the same unit we meet Avital Geva, a well-known artist and Peace Now activist who defended kibbutz socialism.
From the same brigade, there are other important figures as well, who hold widely differing views as to what the modern state of Israel is and should be.
If you are a novice regarding Israel, this book can be a great introduction. If you are a seasoned follower already, this book will help you deepen your grasp. More than that, it is brilliantly written and fun to read. At the risk of being too direct — get it, read it, you won’t regret it.