It's a great irony that Israel was more secure as an idea than it's ever been as a nation with an army. In AD 70, when the Second Temple was destroyed, a handful of visionaries saved Judaism by reinventing it - by taking what had been a national religion, identified with a particular place, and turning it into an idea. Jews no longer needed Jerusalem to be Jews. Whenever a Jew studied, wherever he washed, would be in the holy city. In this way, a few rabbis turned a real city into a city of the mind; in this way, they turned the Temple into a book and preserved their faith.
Though you can burn a city, you cannot sack an idea or kill a book. But in our own time, Zionists have turned the book back into a temple. And unlike an idea, a temple can be destroyed. The creation of Israel has made Jews vulnerable in a way they have not been for 2,000 years.
In Israel Is Real, Rich Cohen's superb new history of the Zionist idea and the Jewish state, the history of a nation is chronicled as if it were the biography of a person. He brings to life dozens of fascinating figures, each driven by the same impulse: to reach Jerusalem. From false messiahs, such as David Alroy (Cohen calls him the first superhero, with his tallis as a cape) and Sabbatai Zevi, who led thousands on a mad spiritual journey, to the early Zionists (many of them failed journalists), to the iconic figures of the modern Jewish Sparta, David Ben-Gurion, Golda Meir, Yitzhak Rabin, and Ariel Sharon, Cohen shows how all these lives together form a single story, a single life.
In this unique book, Cohen examines the myth of the wandering Jew, the paradox of Jewish power (how can you be both holy and nuclear?), and the triumph and tragedy of the Jewish state - how the creation of modern Israel has changed what it means to be a Jew anywhere.
©2009 Rich Cohen (P)2009 Audible, Inc.
"Cohen's idiosyncratic yet often lyrical take on Israel is sometimes exasperating but always deeply felt and refreshing." (Publishers Weekly)
“A fascinating big-picture account of Israel from its distant past to what happened last week. Rich Cohen tells this story central to mankind with skill, passion, common sense, and wit.” (Ian Frazier)
“Rich Cohen’s passionate, engaged, thoroughly modern book is—dare I say—a revelation.” (Jeffrey Toobin)
I should have listened to the review of literary critic Adam Kirsch, which said:
"I cannot help feeling that Cohen's desire to make an impression on the reader comes at too high a price, and that cleverness without taste, knowledge or wisdom is a poor foundation for a book--about Israel or anything else." Kirsch
I will add that the purpose of this book seems to be to show us that it would have been better for the Jewish people if modern Israel had never been created.
That thesis may or may not be true. We will never know since it is a historic fact, but I sure wasn't convinced by the author's sometimes weird arguments which were based on his often weirder takes on cherry-picked historical events. He tries too hard for connections, sometimes erring as to historical facts, often erring as to their meaning and always going for things that support his point of view, regardless of how far he has to stretch to make them do so.
The narrator wasn't great, either. Like the author, too dramatic - so perhaps he was actually a great fit ;-)
This book flows from story to story telling the history of Israel not like a history book but instead an ongoing story that continues today.
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