This article discusses the role of mothers of soldiers in Israeli literature of the past decennia. The canonical Israeli literature between the 1940s and the 1990s teems with figures of fighters and soldiers, alive and dead, combatants and noncombatants, but in only very rare cases does it actively feature mothers. In the great majority of these sporadic cases, these are, moreover, bereaved mothers. Though ostensibly bereavement would appear to underscore the conflict between loyalty to the national ethos and to the family, most of the mothers who appear in this literature do not bear this out and tend, unquestioningly, to fall in with the dominant national ideology. The canonical Israeli literature, that is, fails to exploit its potential fictional freedom to propose alternative narratives to those provided by the ideologically engaged national culture. From the early 1990s, however, the role of the soldier’s mother in Israeli literature starts to change. Inspired by the active part taken by Israeli women in the public struggle against the first Lebanon war and against Israel’s military occupation of Palestinian territories, a new character enters the literary stage: the mother who refuses to accept the conventional gender roles and questions the validity, good faith, and moral superiority of the national ideological discourse. In these works—by Orly Castel Bloom, Yehudit Hendel, David Grossman, Sammy Bardugo and others—motherhood takes a more central role and is treated with more complexity and ambivalence.
The first part of this article is dedicated to a description of the national norm of motherhood and the way it evolved, from a psychoanalytical and historical perspective and in relation to other cultural models of soldiers’ mothers. The second part offers a critical description of the sphere of action set aside for mothers of soldiers in post-independence Israeli literature. Here the question arises what mothers of soldiers in Israeli literature between the 1940s and 1990s “were allowed” to think, feel, and do, and what they were “forbidden” to think, feel, and do.
The final part offers a reading of Orly Castel Bloom’s novel Dolly City. Here the argument is that Dolly constitutes the most critical mother of the national ethos this literature hitherto evolved. The focus of this discussion is on the interrelations between Dolly and the sphere in which she acts, Dolly City—relations that on the face of it are marked by continuity and containment. The argument of this article is that Dolly’s inclusion in the Dolly City—an inclusion reflected in the name of the city—is a parodic and challenging gesture aimed toward a continuity typical of the relations in Israel’s national domain between the mothers of soldiers—or of soldiers-to-be—and the state. The interpretive move that concludes the article suggests reading Dolly City’s drama of motherhood in light of the elusive and deceptive mechanism of continuity between mothers and the nation.