Saturday, May 28, 2016

Israel's lost souls of the sixties

Here's a story I'd never heard before about Israel in the 1960s, which this week I heard independently from two people who don't know each other.

I first heard it from Prof. Oded Heilbronner, a historian at the Hebrew University, who gave a lecture at a conference last week. Heilbronner is a social historian who has written about Weimar Germans, the Beatles and other similar topics. In his lecture he told how he had decided to take a look at Israel's second decade (1958-1967), commonly described as Israel heyday of normality: after the tremendous dramas of the creation of the state, and before the Six Day War and the beginning of the occupation. A time, you would think, and he had been told, of near normality, when Israel was like other countries.

Or not. His findings are that Israel was awash with tension, tense people, and - the focus of his study - crazies. People who barked at the full moon. People who screamed on hot summer nights and whose neighbors were endlessly calling the police to shut them up. People who walked the streets like zombies. "I grew up in Jerusalem, and often passed Pauipeleh and Roizeleh, the two crazies who lived on the corner in front of the Yeshurun synagogue" - at which some of the people in the audience nodded in agreement. "Only many years later, actually rather recently, did it occur to me that they must have been camp survivors unable to create new lives".

This afternoon, skimming over the weekend newspaper I came across an interview with Emuna Allon, an orthodox author who lives in a settlement and is married to Benny Allon, formerly a prominent right-wing politician. She's the same age as Heilbronner, and grew up in the same little town of Jerusalem, and she's recently written a novel about the Shoah. In the interview she tells how although her family were here before the Second World War and there were no survivor stories in the home she grew up in, still "there were all those crazies in Jerusalem, such as Pauipeleh and Roizele, the two lost souls who lived on the street with empty eyes".

Helbronner went on to present statistics, about how the largest number of Israelis with identified and recorded mental health problems came from Eastern Europe, followed by the Sabras; the Mizrachi Israelis were much healthier, it appears. It was the generation of the 1940s, as he calls them; the cohort who went through the traumas of the 1940s when they were young and impressionable, then held on during the crises years of the 1950s, when they had no other choice, and started to fall apart in the 1960s, when Israeli society seemed to be getting on track.


Fabián said...

Interesting and heart breaking.
I have just finished "Our Holocaust" by Amir Guttfreund who touches the same subject.

milton said...

I feel I know the torn-asunder Jews of that generation rather too well.