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Reviewed by:
  • Simulated Dreams: Israeli Youth and Virtual Zionism
  • Eyal Ben-Ari
Simulated Dreams: Israeli Youth and Virtual Zionism, by Haim Hazan. New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2001. 116 pp. $39.50.

This volume, written by Haim Hazan, an anthropologist from Tel Aviv University, attempts to explore the links between dreams and identity among youths in contemporary Israel. Based on a number of projects that Hazan carried out during the last decade or so, the chapters of this short book all center on ideas of “simulation,” that is, the attempt to play with aspects of reality and potential alternatives. Concretely, Hazan explores such cultural sites and arenas as the Holocaust, deprived neighborhoods, political funerals, the Gulf War, or Rabin’s assassination. On a personal level, the volume expresses Hazan’s move from a pre-occupation with the aged (he is one of the most well known figures in the world’s gerontological community) to youth and adolescence.

Apart from a short prologue and an introduction and conclusion, the volume includes five substantial chapters: the first centers on the attempts by residents of a Sephardi neighborhood to cleanse itself of its stigmatic label. The second deals with the delegations of youngsters sent to Poland to traverse Holocaust sites, while the third looks at a satirical program produced and aired during the Gulf War. The fourth chapter examines the rebellion of Tel Aviv youths depicted in a popular movie. The fifth chapter on the commemoration of Rabin, in my view the best one in the volume, shows how youths staked a claim in the national collective memory. The volume is full of insights that widen our understanding of Israel and present-day Israelis. Thus for example, he suggests that we talk about the development of a Sho’a business rather than focusing only on the standard institutional understanding of the Holocaust. Similarly, time and again Hazan suggests that we focus on fragments of myths and dreams in order to [End Page 181] understand that for people they do not come in the form of grand narratives or in coherent stories.

Not for the faint hearted, the volume written by Hazan is full of the latest anthropological jargon and concepts. Furthermore, it assumes prior knowledge of Israeli society (such terms as “Ashkenazi” or “Sephardi” for example, are not explicated in the text). It is thus ideally suited to an anthropological or, more widely, social scientific audience and not for a popular one. In this sense I would suggest that readers would benefit from reading the introduction—the most abstract part of the volume—at the end of the text. I suggest so since Hazan’s theoretical arguments would be much clearer if the text is read in this manner.

The book carries wide import for the understanding of contemporary Israel. This is because what Hazan is attempting here is to offer a new way, a new perspective on this country and its society. If the main ways of looking at Israel in the past few decades involved structural-functionalism and later conflict theories, this book represents what is still a rather minority view and that is of looking at Israel in cultural terms. Concretely, what Hazan offers is a critical reading of (Jewish) Israeli society in which there has been an adoption of youth and youthful idioms by other age groups. He shows how this move is rooted in the Zionist accent on youthful pioneers (and all of what they represented) and how these images continue to be of relevance today. In addition, rather than talking about how various collective identities are constructed, Hazan is attempting to talk about how people deconstruct various cultural assumptions. Following the thought of the social thinker Baudrillard, Hazan attempts to show how simulations represent an appropriation of content and form from the level of the elites to the everyday one of actual people going about their actual lives. In other words, he shows how a reading of the diverse sites chosen for study allow us to see aspects of Israel that are different from, yet curiously modeled on, the grand projects of nation-building and modernization.

This short volume, theoretically sophisticated and challenging, offers a new...

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pp. 181-182
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