WHILE YOU STAND ON ONE LEG: It’s human nature to collect things. Through decades of haunting used book stores and Jewish neighborhood library book sales, I’ve collected tons of books on events in our Jewish people’s ancient and modern homeland history. I commend to you a few of them as inspiring accounts of the depth and intensity of our people’s commitment to our Jewish national home.
Rantings of an Israel History Book Nut
“Anti-Semitism!” I cried one night some years ago to the uncomprehending librarian running my Jewish neighborhood public library’s monthly used book sale. “All the books about Israel’s history are all of a sudden a buck more than all of the other books.” “That’s not anti-Semitism,” she patiently explained, as though to a fourth-grader. “That’s Supply & Demand. Some nut is buying them all up.” Being that nut, and already being pressured under our Constitution’s Domestic Tranquility clause regarding storage of the fruits of my decades-long haunting of used book stores and library book sales for Israel history books, I cut back, which has long since continued. But over the heyday of my “used” Israel history book collecting hobby, I’d collected more than a thousand.
By “Israel history,” ancient through modern, I don’t mean academic treatises titled “History of Israel,” etc., but period, subject or person-specific accounts, some by Israel’s Washingtons, Jeffersons, Franklins themselves or contemporaries, or by or in the words of participants in its wars of survival. Some of these riveting-reading books are as far removed from the (ugh!) high school history textbooks you remember unfondly as reading, not just history reading, gets.
I haven’t gotten around to reading all my thousand, but I’ve made a dent. My criteria for recommending one of my reads to others are  it has to make at least attention-gripping if not really riveting reading (you’re a volunteer, after all); and  it has to be an honest account (there’s a minefield of misleading and even anti-Israel Israel books out there), imparting an inspiring sense of the intensity of the just commitment of the book’s people to our three-millennia homeland of Israel. Below I cover a few Israel history aspects with books meeting these tests, and I append three books every Jew of our time owes their authors more than a cursory glance.
Aliyah Bet: Nowhere, I think, is that sense of individuals’ commitment to our people’s homeland more powerfully conveyed than in the first-person accounts of the participants – Palestinian Jews, Holocaust survivors and American volunteers – in the Aliyah Bet, the bringing together and sailing home of those survivors into the teeth of the anti-Jewish British Palestine blockade. If you’ve never done so, I’d have you plunge into that genre.
Likely the first Aliyah Bet books readers think of are those on the Exodus, likely Ruth Gruber’s Destination Palestine and David Holly’s Exodus 1947, both excellent reads. But for the raw first-person endurance, heroics and relentless drive of the people involved, I commend to you acclaimed Israeli author Yoram Kaniuk’s Commander of the Exodus, Gordon Thomas’ Operation Exodus and Nissan Degani’s Exodus Calling. You’ll find few more moving books. Two gripping books on other Aliyah Bet ships are Arie Eliav’s The Voyage of the Ulua and Rudy Patzert’s Running the Palestine Blockade. Murray Greenfield & Joseph Hochstein’s The Jews’ Secret Fleet [thanks, Steve] gives, per its subtitle, a multi-ship account of The Untold Story of North American Volunteers who Smashed the British Blockade of Palestine.
Americans’ Involvement in Israel’s Rebirth: Broader accounts of American Jews’ actions in Israel’s independence struggle include the good reads The Pledge, by Leonard Slater, and Robert Silverberg’s If I Forget Thee O Jerusalem, subtitled The Dramatic Story of How American Jews and the United States Helped Create Israel. But most moving, by me, is Jeffrey and Craig Weiss’ I Am My Brother’s Keeper, American Volunteers in Israel’s War for Independence, 1947-1949, based on over 200 interviews and documents declassified at their request. Read this book if you can find it.
The Six Day War: Most gripping of those that I’ve read are the participants’ accounts in Steven Pressfield’s The Lion’s Gate. He strove to be “in the cockpit, inside the tank, under the helmet,” in which he succeeds.
Three Israel Books We Owe It to Ourselves and Their Authors To Read
I cannot imagine a Jew of our time not having at least browsed through Herzl’s Jewish State. What is it about this little book, not the first on its theme, that launched a thousand ships (most of them British destroyers)? The 1943 [n.b., pre-Israel independence] edition I have has a foreword by Dr. Weizmann addressing this question. Weizmann wrote that “the most potent cause” of the astonishing power of this partly “penetrating social and psychological analysis,” partly “almost incredibly naïve” little book is the magnitude of “the personality of the author” pervading the pages of The Jewish State. You owe yourself, and Herzl, a fair look at it.
Assessment of the Irgun’s role in Israel’s rebirth is not a subject of calm, objective commentary. Begin laid out in The Revolt, from the Irgun’s own perspective, its organizational structure, objectives and actions, including the retaliatory whipping and hanging of British officers, Deir Yassin, the King David Hotel bombing, the Altalena, etc. The Revolt became a manual for homeland liberation movements. A Jew ought to read it.
A very different principal actor in Israel’s rebirth was Dr. Chaim Weizmann. Read his autobiography, Trial and Error.
What I’d Have You Glean From These Books, these three classics and those above on Israel’s rebirth and wars of survival, is a sense that for us American Jews there’s a fundamental difference between one issue, America’s position on the Jewish State, and all other issues – abortion, borders, crime and policing, inflation and the economy, what ought to be taught in our schools, etc. – that today deeply divide us Americans.
Stare at a map of the land of Israel, Palestine west of the Jordan. An “anti-Zionist” seeking to do the most irrevocable damage and harm to the Jewish State would rip from it its most meaningful place, historic Jerusalem (Temple Mount, Western Wall, City of David and all), and most defensible high ground, its Judea-Samaria hill country heartland. To do this irrevocable damage, one does not even have to be “anti-Zionist,” just a well-meaning non-Israeli caught up in the international howling for “Middle East Peace” based on a western Palestine “Two-State Solution.” E.g., Jerusalem Post, 7/15/22, Biden: I Support Two States, Based on Pre-1967 Lines. In “Land For Peace,” Land, of all concessions, is what’s irrevocable.