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In and Out of Love With Zionism

Tony Judt recalls 1960s kibbutz life

Marc Tracy
January 19, 2010
Orthodox Jews work the fields near a kibbutz, May 2009.(Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images)
Orthodox Jews work the fields near a kibbutz, May 2009.(Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images)

Historian Tony Judt provoked not a little controversy several years ago for proposing a single bi-national state between the Jordan and the Mediterranean, effectively repudiating Zionism. Judt’s views, agree with them or not, are in part informed by his experiences living on kibbutzim in the 1960s. He recounts this time in a brief, lovely memoir in the latest New York Review of Books. Judt remembers:

For the neophyte fifteen-year-old Londoner encountering the kibbutz for the first time, the effect was exhilarating. Here was “Muscular Judaism” in its most seductive guise: health, exercise, productivity, collective purpose, self-sufficiency, and proud separatism—not to mention the charms of kibbutz children of one’s own generation, apparently free of all the complexes and inhibitions of their European peers.

Judt’s attraction to the world of the kibbutzim and to Labour Zionism failed to win out against his desire to attend university in Europe and the revulsion he felt while serving in the Israeli military. Judt concludes:

Labour Zionism made me, perhaps a trifle prematurely, a universalist social democrat—an unintended consequence which would have horrified my Israeli teachers had they followed my career. But of course they didn’t. I was lost to the cause and thus effectively “dead.”

Read the whole thing. Judt is a remarkable, perceptive writer. (He has also written beautifully about living with, and dying of, Lou Gehrig’s disease.)

Kibbutz [NYRB]
Night [NYRB]

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.