EVERY BOOK has its own peculiarities of style and form. This one is no exception, and readers may appreciate knowing what they are—at least those that are the result of conscious decisions by the author. The first and most important of these idiosyncrasies is that the book deals primarily with six builders of Israel, each in a separate chapter. These six individuals confronted many of the same issues and interacted with many of the same people. In order to avoid duplication, people and issues are introduced at length only in the chapter where they are most fully discussed. A curious, confused, or impatient reader may want to look ahead—or behind—using the index.
The main characters in this book are referred to in ways that may seem inconsistent. Berl Katznelson and Golda Meir are often called by their first names, as they were during their lifetimes, and not only by their friends. David Ben-Gurion and Henrietta Szold, on the other hand, were almost never called by their given names and therefore are not here. Szold was Miss Szold to almost everyone, although that formality has been dropped. A short glossary identifies some groups and institutions and offers definitions of some terms which, because they are familiar to many readers, are not explained more fully in the body of the text.
What may jar some readers is the use of the term “Palestine” to denote the pre-1948 territory that is today Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. In the pre-state era, however, that was the term in general English use; before 1922 it included what is now Jordan as well. Then it was only a geographical, not a political, term. And “Palestinians” then invariably meant Jews and not Arabs, as it is used here. Some people prefer the Hebrew term “Eretz Yisrael” or its English translation, “land of Israel.” I have rejected it here, because it is clumsy and anachronistic in English.
Readers may note, as well, that the term “America” is used in different, although connected, ways in the text. At various times it refers to the American Jewish community, to the American government, to American society and culture, or to the United States as a country. All of these uses are, I believe, legitimate. I hope that the meaning is clear in all cases from the context. I find justification for the multiple uses in James Baldwin’s observation that “America’s history . . . [is] so profoundly and stubbornly unique that the very word ‘America’ remains a new, almost completely undefined and extremely controversial proper noun. No one in the world seems to know exactly what it describes.”
Finally, there are here many names and terms in languages other than English, particularly Hebrew and Yiddish. In general, the names of people and organizations appear as they were written by the people and groups themselves. Hebrew and Yiddish terms that are in fairly common use in English, such as “aliyah” and “kibbutz,” appear in their most common English form. Others are written as phonetically as possible. The standard scholarly transliterations of Hebrew have been largely ignored, because they are confusing and awkward-looking to the general reader, while the specialist can get along quite well with phonetic spellings. Every attempt has been made to be consistent.