Mirkin’s second son, Efrayim, leaves to join the army and when he returns he is badly scarred on his face. The treatment he receives from the townsfolk is filled with prejudice and intolerance and eventually forces him to run away from the village. Efrayim is reduced to wearing a mask in public. “”The next morning I went to Margulis, asked him for an old beekeeper’s mask, and brought it to my son so that he could come and go among men””. 15 Thus this raises the question on the place of social equality in the community.
Why are people allowed to get away with such intolerant behaviour to other members of the community? In theory democracy and socialism are the basis of Israeli society, however, Sternhell argues that in practice the founding fathers of Israel did not cater for the welfare of society unless this affected the issue of nationalism. “It became clear beyond any shadow of a doubt that the labor movement was interested in political power rather than in social change, and that it wished to control society, not to create a model one”. 16 The term democracy is also used selectively in Sternhell’s opinion.
He states that Israel has no constitution and that its Declaration of Independence in 1948 came across as liberal but in fact had no legal standing in Israeli jurisprudence. Therefore, it “could not serve as a point of reference with regard to the rights of man, with regard to gender equality (which the religious parties very strongly opposed), or with regard to equality before the law, which, if applied, would have made the Arabs remaining in Israeli territory full citizens”. 17 Therefore, the community which Mirkin has created is ideological is one sense, the theory of returning to one’s “rightful land” and nurturing it.
However, on the other hand it does not live up to its ideological expectations because potential problems are overlooked and not dealt with. The theme of leaving the established community is commonplace in the novel. There are many suicides among the farming community. This suggests a deep unhappiness and psychological turmoil that is caused by living within this environment. Avraham as the first-born child also ends up leaving this enclosed society that he has been brought up in because his wife fears for his sanity. Baruch himself decided to leave after the death of his and his Grandfather’s friend, Pinness.
He is the last of the founding fathers and his demise ends an era for Baruch. Therefore what is Shalev trying to imply about the nature of small tight-knit communities? The theme of madness and insanity is strong in this story. Virtually everyone seems to show signs of losing their minds and this reflects on the community itself. Why is this place creating such mental disorders? Baruch’s graveyard enterprise is strange because he goes around exhuming bodies and transferring them to his cemetary. Sometimes he keeps moving bodies back and forth because he cannot decide the plot in which they should be placed to rest.
Viewing the bodies is another odd thing that Baruch does. “Before burying them, I opened their coffins in the shed by Busquilla’s office to have a look at them. I had to make sure that no one ineligible was smuggled in”. 18 However, what makes this scenario very ironic is that the inhabitants of the Valley of Jezreel want to leave yet there is a numerous amount of people who want to be buried in this very place. Pinness comments on this phenomenon very sarcastically, he says to Baruch, “Ninenty percent of the pioneers of the Second Aliyah left this land…
Now you’re returning them to it”. 19 Perhaps the ideal of having a homeland is better than the reality. Mirkin’s brother Yosef was one such person who felt that the reality did not live up to the dream and he left. It seems that Shalev is implying that the pioneers have not established a long-term plan for inhabiting this land. They have merely gone to fulfill a dream and live for the present without thinking about the future or the past. In reference to the past, it is as if they are trying to forget something that causes them too much pain.
Grandfather does not like to talk about the past, “Grandfather didn’t answer. Words like “Do you Remember… ” left him cold. “20 The idea of forgetting the past was in fact a major theme in Jewish nationalism. The founding fathers of Israel believed that being Israeli was a priority and other identities or past experiences were irrelevant compared to this. Therefore, they believed that Jews should reconstruct a new identity for themselves within this new land. Aaron David Gordon was one such intellectual who subscribed to this thinking.
Sternhell observes, “Thus, the revolution Gordon envisaged had two aspects: rebirth and a complete break with exile on one hand and an attachment to one’s historical roots and to the religious content of national life on the other”. 21 Religion was an important factor that could not be forgotten because it was the connection between the Jewish people, the common bond that held them together. However, more importantly it was the very essence of the Jewish right to Palestine. “It may be said that the religiohistorical element as a focus of nationality had even greater importance in Zionism than in other national movements.
In the final analysis, it was religion in the broadest sense, with all its national and historical connotations, that provided the justification for the conquest of the country and the legitimation of Jews’ return”. 22 Sternhell comments on this need to change one’s identity in order to live in Palestine. “This revolution required a metamorphosis: emigration to a distant land, a change of language, often a change of profession, and a dramatic change in lifestyle”. 23 The adjustment for the immigrants to Palestine was probably quite harsh as well.
The climate and culture must have been difficult for many to cope with and that is why so many left. However, these issues may have been easier to deal with if one was encouraged to reminisce and feel nostalgic, but as this was frowned upon trying to deal with such a radically new life must have been a tough experience. Therefore, in Shalev’s novel, he is demonstrating how destructive forgetting one’s past can be. Although he exaggerates certain scenarios such as the mental imbalance of virtually all the village, this pushes the point the author is trying to make quite demonstratively.
Baruch, for example, is the opposite of his Grandfather. He likes to remember the past, it is almost as if he is stuck in a time warp. However, this seems a reaction to his Grandfather not wishing to discuss such things very often. It is also harmful to dwell on the past. Therefore a balance is not present here. In the novel, The One Facing Us, by Ronit Matalon, the protagonist is also anxious to find out about her family’s past because she feels this part of her identity is missing. However, she finds that her family have difficulties talking about such things.
Therefore, the issue of the past is quite popular in Israeli fiction. The lack of future insight is also an important issue in the novel. Baruch seems to have no plans for his life. He has prospects and is making a lot of money from his graveyard enterprise; but he does not think of investing this money and prefers to live the way he has always lived. However, it seems that the novel ends in a positive light because Baruch gets ready to leave the village and the reader feels that he has finally taken control of his life.
The future may be optimistic after all, however, this ending does not bode well for Jewish nationalist rhetoric. Liberson also makes a comment about lack of vision. He says, “”They weren’t prepared for aging pioneers. The sight of us mighty visionaries and men of action reduced to arteriosclerotic rheumatics sent them all into shock””. 24 It comes across from the novel that in order to do well in life one must leave the community. After all Yosef makes a lot of money after he abandons Jezreel for America, “Yosef made it big in California.
“When we were still walking around wrapped in burlap in winter, our socks stuffed with newspapers to keep out the cold, he was selling suits to bourgeois Americans””. 25 However, coming to Palestine is not meant to be a money making venture, this is very clear from the start. It is an ideological journey, a voyage of redemption. In fact, in the village one must live as basic a life as possible. Riva Margulis arrives in the community as a wealthy woman, however, there is a view that one must leave one’s wealth behind or leave the village entirely.
This makes Riva quite resentful, she says, “”What even the Bolsheviks couldn’t take from my father our own Reds stole from me””. 26 This is perhaps why the villagers are resentful of Baruch’s graveyard business because it makes him money. In The Blue Mountain there is a lot of resentful feelings, internal disputes and prejudices amongst the characters. The pioneers of the novel start disagreements with one another, this stems mainly from Mirkin’s treatment of his wife. The others judge him and see him as a murderer. Towards the end of his life, Mirkin has a lot of built up anger towards his community.
He insists that Baruch bury him within his own plot of land and not in the village graveyard. It is Grandfather’s request that makes Baruch start his business. “Grandfather’s revenge was taking shape. The graves burned like a chastisement in the earth of the village, like a terrible mockery of its way of life, a rank challenge to its very existence”. 27 It is an ultimate insult that the main founding father of this village does not want to be buried within its cemetery, and he is followed by others who would rather be buried next to him. There are also physical disputes amongst villagers.
Shlomo Levin, Grandmother Feyge’s brother, viciously attacks Zeitser, a farm worker. He manages to take out Zeitser’s eye. “It took a few seconds to absorb the full horror of what we were looking at and to realize that it was the mule’s left eyeball, which a flying stone had dislodged from its socket”. 28 Then there is perhaps the worst inner dissension and that is in the form of prejudice. These immigrants who have suffered intolerance and hardships behave as intolerably to newly arriving immigrants. Baruch’s father, is a German Jew, and he is treated with inferiority. ”
Tonya Rilov…scolded Grandfather for letting his daughter walk around holding hands with “that new immigrant from Germany””29 Levin observes a similar prejudiced attitude when he first arrives to Palestine. “”The Jews here turn up their noses at us, and the Arabs have already twice assaulted me””. 30 This factor is ignored by Jewish nationalism which prefers to paint an image of a perfect society. In fact, people are too obsessed with the redemption aspect that they forget the social aspect. There is not enough focus, if any, on changing people’s attitudes. Uri, Baruch’s cousin, calls such behaviour the beginning of a “process of disintegration”.
Mirkin also comments on such disputes of which he is well aware. “Once when Grandfather was alive and still his old cynical self, I remember him saying to Pinness that his comrades’ suspicions and disputatiousness would eventually lead them to the ultimate in factional split: schizophrenia”. 31 An important issue of disagreement amongst immigrants is over the actual nature of nationalism. In the novel Dolly City by Orly Castel-Bloom, the author touches on the controversial aspect of what the borders of Israel should be. Castel-Bloom is of the opinion that one should return to the 1967 borders before occupation.
Within Israel there are also disputes over the nature of religion. Although ironically Israel was founded on a religiohistorical argument, there is nevertheless constant difference of opinion over how religious a state Israel should be. The current Health Minister of Israel, Nissim Dahan, believes that Israel should be a religious country and only those Jews who are serious about religion should come to Israel. “Israel Radio reported earlier Sunday that Dahan said diaspora Jews should not immigrate to Israel if they think that they would not be able to adopt a religious lifestyle in the country”.
32 On the other hand “Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said on Sunday that the process to convert to Judaism should be shortened”. 33 The founding fathers believed that anyone who is Jewish has the right to come to Israel. In The Blue Mountain the inhabitants of Jezreel are not overtly religious and this factor is emphasized when an orthodox community moves into the neighbourhood and their way of life is very different from the existing community. The family is depicted as being very chaste and this makes them quite dull as characters. Charles S.
Leibman argues, “There is certainly evidence to support the suggestion, that religion is a great force for conservatism”. 34 The non-orthodox community that Shalev portrays is interesting because of their exploits and their flowery use of language. On the other hand, Shalev is quite sarcastic in his descriptions of the religious community of farmers. “These religious farmers were odd types… Though they weren’t supposed to work on the Sabbath, they milked their cows to keep them from suffering, putting a floor tile in each bucket to make God think that the milk had been spilled on the ground”.
35 Religion therefore is not a motivating factor for political Zionists. Retuning to the land is more about ideology and abstract concepts. Nature and physical labour are what drives people and this is the motivation for the characters in the novel. Firstly, The Blue Mountain is the scene where the novel is set and this paints a rather strong protective image. In literature, mountains often represent a guardian-like figure and separate the inhabitants from the rest of the cruel world. “Like a huge wall, the mountain screened us from the city, from the sea, from all vanity and seduction”.
36 This protection is very important because Jews felt insecure without a homeland and having a place to call home gives a feeling of security and peace. However, being so sheltered is also a negative trait because it can lead to isolation and this breeds many problems. Shalev addresses these problems such as becoming intolerant; not having interaction with different types of people can lead to bigotry. A worse case scenario of isolation is losing one’s mind and Shalev deploys this imagery extensively. Going back to nature and tilling the land is therapeutic and healing for the Jews.
Zionism encouraged building up the land with one’s own hand, this created a sense of belonging to the nation as the individual plays a part in creating the homeland. Life is supposed to be basic and simple. Levin sings a song that summarises this theory. “I shall plow, and I shall sow, and I shall rejoice- Only when I am in Israel’s land. You may dress me in plain cloth and call me ‘Jew’- Only when I am in Israel’s land. I shall eat dry bread and bow to no man- Only when I am in Israel’s land. “37 This emphasis on living a basic life is commonplace in many national movements.
Gandhi, for example, took to living simply and encouraged his fellow men to wear khadi cloth, which was the cloth spun in India by the Indian people. This was a very symbolic act in Indian nationalism. Thus, it was a similar case in Israel, the more humble life you led the more you were connected to the Jewish nationalist ideal. Initially the characters have lofty ideas of the land, everything is seen in a symbolic context. Liberson writes, “”In the Diaspora too the Jewish people spills its blood… Yet there Jewish blood is as pointless in death as in life.
Here there is meaning to both our lives and our deaths, because our Homeland and our Freedom call to us. “”38 It seems that these people are completely immersed by Zionist propaganda and truly believe it. They want to aspire to these ideals. The earth is like a mother figure and manual labour is believed to purge one’s sins. “Our sins will be purged by hard work”. 39 There is still the idea that Jews were expelled from Palestine because of their sins or some say the sins of humanity. Thus, there is a physical need to come to this land for a sense of peace. Pinness says to Levin, “You came because you needed this earth as we all did.
The feel of it, the smell of it, the promise of it. Needed it more than it needed you”. Hence, it is inevitable that people will become disenchanted and bitter when such dreams do not materialise. Shalev expresses this through personification. Pinness says, “The earth cheated on us… She wasn’t the virgin we thought she was”. 40 Shalev is judgmental of political Zionist ideals. He seems to negate the theory of a perfect society. It seems that Shalev does not think one exists. Collective identities and living as one faith or race in the “Promised Land” creates problems of its own.
So whilst the Diaspora Jews think they are escaping from problems in their exiled land, they are not actually escaping because the new nation is not a utopia, according to Shalev. The topic of exile is extremely important. Jews feel they have been in exile from their “rightful homeland”, Palestine, for centuries. Thus wherever they have lived in the world has not been permanent for them mentally, whilst it may have been permanent for them physically. Thus they have continuously been in a state of remembering and longing for their homeland. It starts to become a utopian dream and Palestine becomes a heaven.
Nancy Berg states, “The exile is deprived of the homeland, the setting for times past. This leads to the development of certain mental structures, ways of attempting to bridge the distance. The exile is subject to bouts of nostalgia, in which memories of the past are richer than the actual present”. 41 In summation, it seems that whilst the ideas of political Zionism may sound inspirational the reality is quite different. Going back to a natural environment and working on the land that belongs to you is a great national dream, a feeling of freedom, but this is not enough to create a strong nation.
Therefore idealism has to be rejected in order to build a nation that would survive in a harsh world. Don Peretz states, “The contradictions created by the gap between ideology and the requirements of rapid modernization were revealed in contrasting lifestyles, living standards, and attitudes”. 42 As the founding fathers of the village in the Valley of Jezreel have only concentrated on establishing a community based on Jewish nationalism, other aspects of life are neglected and this causes a variety of problems.
Shalev embellishes these problems in his novel and succeeds in stating his controversial opinion on the nature of Jewish national identity. 1 Meir Shalev, Translated from the Hebrew by Hillel Halkin, The Blue Mountain, (Harper Collins Publishers, 1991), p. 202 2 Zeev Sternhell, Translated by David Maisel, The Founding Myths of Israel: Nationalism, Socialism, and the Making of the Jewish State, (Princeton University Press, 1998), p. 12 3 Ibid. 4 Ibid. , p. 8 5 Ibid. , p. 6 6 Ibid. , p. 7 7 S. N. Eisenstadt, Israeli Society, (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1967), p. 178 Sternhell, p. 13 9 The Blue Mountain, p. 30 10 Ibid. , p. 48 11 Eisenstadt, p. 2 12.
The Blue Mountain, p. 55 13 Ibid. , p. 82 14 Eisenstadt, p. 18 15 The Blue Mountain, p. 125 16 Sternhell, p. 34 17 Ibid. , p. 320 18 The Blue Mountain, p. 30 19 Ibid. , p. 202 20 Ibid. , p. 9 21 Sternhell, p. 72 22 Ibid. , p. 57 23 Ibid. , p. 32 24 The Blue Mountain, p. 132 25 Ibid. , p. 29 26 Ibid. , p. 270 27 Ibid. , p. 299 28 Ibid. , p. 283 29 Ibid. , p. 107 30 Ibid. , p. 44 31 Ibid. , p. 284 32 Ha’aretz English Edition, Print Edition, Sunday December 29th 2002, www. haaretzdaily.com/hasen/pages/arch/ArchSearchResultsEng. jhtml?
DARGS=%2Farch%2Fobjects%2Ffunctions%2FsearchInEnglishArchion. jhtml 33 Ibid. 34 Charles S. Leibman, Religion, Democracy and Israeli Society, (Harwood Academic Publishers, 1997), p. 6 35 The Blue Mountain, p. 337 36 Ibid. , p. 121 37 Ibid. , p. 47 38 Ibid. , p. 172 39 Ibid. , p. 202 40 Ibid. , p. 275 41 Nancy E. Berg, Exile From Exile: Israeli Writers From Iraq, (State university of New York Press, 1996), p. 4 42 Don Peretz, The Government and the Politics of Israel, (Westview Press, 2nd edition, updated), p. 74.