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Becoming Israeli

National Ideals and Everyday Life in the 1950s

Anat Helman

Publication Year: 2014

With a light touch and many wonderful illustrations, historian Anat Helman investigates “life on the ground” in Israel during the first years of statehood. She looks at how citizens—natives of the land, longtime immigrants, and newcomers—coped with the state’s efforts to turn an incredibly diverse group of people into a homogenous whole. She investigates the efforts to make Hebrew the lingua franca of Israel, the uses of humor, and the effects of a constant military presence, along with such familiar aspects of daily life as communal dining on the kibbutz, the nightmare of trying to board a bus, and moviegoing as a form of escapism.  In the process Helman shows how ordinary people adapted to the standards and rules of the political and cultural elites and negotiated the chaos of early statehood.

Published by: Brandeis University Press

Series: The Schusterman Series in Israel Studies

Title Page, Series Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xvi

In the summer of 1949, a member of a kibbutz —an Israeli agricultural collective community—wrote an essay for the local bulletin. He complained about too much noise and disorder in the communal dining hall during mealtimes and listed some behaviors that members of the kibbutz, both workers and diners, could adopt to improve the situation. After the founding of the state, Israeli kibbutzim faced economic, demographic,...

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pp. xvii-xviii

I would like to express my gratitude to Ezra Mendelsohn, Yael Reshef, Hagit Lavsky, and Emmanuel Sivan, who kindly read the book’s manuscript and provided me with constructive criticism and invaluable advice....

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1 | Introducing Israel in White

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pp. 1-19

In February 1950, an Israeli daily newspaper published a cartoon titled “Israel—The Land of Wonders.” It showed three local symbols—a camel, a cactus, and a palm tree—all draped in snow.1 The wondrous juxtaposition depicted in the cartoon referred to the days during the previous week when Israel, characterized by a subtropical Mediterranean climate, was covered in snow. Normally January, the coldest month of the...

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2 | The Language of the Melting Pot

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pp. 20-46

“The very foundation of each and every nation is its national tongue,” wrote the Hebrew writer Yehuda Burla in 1954. Born in Jerusalem to a Sephardi family, Burla considered linguistic unification during these years of mass immigration an arduous task. Some comfort could be found in the younger generation, the children of Israel, who would absorb the language in a natural, organic manner, but, he wrote, “it is much...

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3 | The Humorous Side of Rationing

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pp. 47-67

In 1952 a three-year-old Israeli girl toppled a tray of rice, put to dry in the sun by her neighbor. This was during the years of austerity, and the neighbor had to gather back each and every grain. A supposedly minor incident became one of the girl’s earliest memories. Six decades later she still remembers it as a dramatic event, and although she cannot recall the details (was she scolded by her neighbor? reprimanded by...

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4 | “A People in Uniform”

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pp. 68-85

Newly independent nations usually promote a heroic vision of national identity, with themes of struggle, liberation, and sacrifice.1 Israel was founded during a total war, and when the war ended, the cease-fire agreements did not bring about peace. Since its earliest days as an independent state, Israel had to prepare itself conceptually as well as strategically to withstand a continuous violent conflict.2 Sociologist Moshe...

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5 | Taking the Bus

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pp. 86-112

A young journalist, an Israeli native who had recently fought in the war, wrote in 1951 about his bus trip from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem—a distance of about fifty miles—as “a daring operation.” Getting from his street to the central bus station in Tel Aviv and thence to Jerusalem took him five hours and included “a great deal of bitterness and anger, striking sun, dreadful crowdedness and lengthy delays in endless lines.” He knew...

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6 | Going to the Movies

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pp. 113-139

When snow started falling in Tel Aviv in February 1950, children ran into a movie theater and threw snowballs at the screen, thus announcing the exceptional weather event to the audience, some of whom rushed out of the cinema to see the wonder with their own eyes.1...

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7 | The Communal Dining Hall

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pp. 140-162

When it snowed all over Israel in February 1950, a Jerusalem Post correspondent sent some impressions from the Jordan Valley:

In town, the “scientific explanations” of the snow can be spread over a large area. In the kibbutzim, they concentrate in the dining halls. Everyone has his own private and personal theory—the Atom—the H-bomb...

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8 | Informality, Straightforwardness, and Rudeness

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pp. 163-186

By now the reader must have noticed that Israelis often used casual and familiar forms of social communication. As we saw, informal Hebrew, although still shunned by high and official culture, became a coveted sign of nativity. Informality was apparent even in an institution commonly supposed to be hyperformal—the army. The line between informality and impoliteness was a thin one; Israeli brusqueness could easily...

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pp. 187-192

In examining the unofficial implementation of hegemonic Israeli ideals in daily life, this book began and ended with two central modes of social interaction. Its first main chapter, following a general discussion of a freak snowfall, was dedicated to linguistic policies and practices, and its last discussed behavioral norms, conventions, and manners. In between we have also covered two issues of public reference and...


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pp. 193-238


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pp. 239-268


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pp. 269-274

E-ISBN-13: 9781611685589
E-ISBN-10: 1611685583
Print-ISBN-13: 9781611685565

Page Count: 312
Publication Year: 2014

Series Title: The Schusterman Series in Israel Studies