Although Yossi Klein Halevi will no doubt discuss his new nonfiction book, “Like Dreamers: The Story of the Israeli Paratroopers Who Reunited Jerusalem and Divided a Nation” (HarperCollins, 2013) during his StandWithUs Northwest keynote address at Town Hall on Nov. 3, he might as aptly have named the book “How I Learned to Love Kibbutzniks, Rediscover Religious Zionism, and Imagine a New Jewish Future.” For Halevi, in revealing the disparate life stories of the seven men of the 55th Brigade who fought in the victorious 1967 battle for the Old City of Jerusalem, this international journalist realized that once again it will be the dreamers who transform his country.
Each of the paratroopers in Halevi’s book went on to follow his passion, political and artistic, in their divergent lives. They serve as a chronicle of Israel’s transition from a Socialist labor-based society to a more modern Israel where settlers seemed to have laid claim to the national narrative.
When asked if this decade-long project altered his ideological or political views, Halevi told JTNews he is more committed than ever to the middle path.
“I was and remain a centrist,” Halevi said. “When I began the book in 2002, I went into this project pretty set on how I understood the Israeli conflict and Israeli society. That position has been strengthened for me. The left is right about the occupation and the right is right about peace.”
Halevi also said he’s begun to see Zionists and kibbutzniks in a new light, holding that both possessed the sort of dream Israel requires today to forge a new future.
“I always saw the kibbutzniks as wimps,” Halevi said. “This gave me a belated experience of how strong the kibbutz movement was. I didn’t grow up with the romance of the kibbutz movement. I fell in love with it. I was writing a eulogy to the kibbutz movement.”
Halevi reflected on his own Zionist upbringing when it was necessary to save the Jews of Europe and there was “no time for distraction.”
“I came out of the curmudgeon side of Zionism,” said Halevi. “It was almost a dreamless Zionism.”
He now recognizes that at the core of the Zionist dream lays a “true utopian movement.”
Rob Jacobs, StandWithUs Northwest’s regional director, asked Halevi to appear at its 2013 annual community reception because he represents what Jacobs hopes the local Jewish community can emulate.
“He’s a thoughtful and strong centrist Zionist,” said Jacobs, “a man who is open to hearing from all sides, who has made a point of reaching out to people across the political and religious spectrum. His new book reflects exactly that openness, to hear and to respect differing opinions.”
Jacobs hopes that some of Halevi’s message of compassion and tolerance will leave its mark on the local Jewish community, particularly in light of recent conflicts in King County over Middle East bus ads and the continuing effects of contentious political rhetoric surrounding Israel.
“We’re hoping that Yossi’s talk will demonstrate that the division in Israel and here leaves us less able to deal with problems and crises that confront us,” Jacobs said. “We hope that, as a result, we as a community will try to find ways to come up with more common goals, better ways of communicating.
Jacobs added that the divisions noted in Halevi’s book reflect not only Israel’s current political climate, but the clashes in American Jewish culture as well.
“In the face of growing and all-too-frequently over-the-top, unfounded and biased criticism of Israel, our own inability to unify weakens us as a community,” Jacobs said.
Kasim Hafeez, a pro-Israel British Muslim will also be a guest speaker at the event. Hafeez, a former Islamist who now supports Israel, wrote the book “Muslim, Zionist and Proud: How I Went from Hating to Loving Israel and the Jewish People.” Hafeez sits on the advisory board of SWU in the United Kingdom.
Halevi also continues to look toward a brighter future for Israel when, once again, new dreamers will dream again and propel Jews to even greater accomplishments.
“The question my book asks is, ‘What is the next big dream?’” Halevi said. “My dream is that we will create a new Judaism that will re-inspire the whole Jewish people. We don’t have a Utopian, avant-garde, inspiring Israel today. For the first time there’s no one inspiring us in a grand vision, which is symptomatic of a sense of drift within Israelis and Jews in general. We’re in an ideological hangover.”