Ben-Gurion; Father of Modern Israel by Anita Shapira Reviewed by Connie Nordhielm Wooldridge

Ben-Gurion; Father of Modern Israel by Anita Shapira; translated from the Hebrew by Anthony Berris. Yale University Press, 2014. 276 pages; $25.00 (hardcover); reading level: adult.

In the first four chapters of this biography, David Ben-Gurion is born David Green in Plonsk, Poland, travels to Warsaw to attend high school (only to be rejected for admission), emigrates to Palestine at age 20, travels to Istanbul to attend law school (learning Turkish after his arrival there), and returns to Palestine, where, at the outbreak of the European War (a.k.a. World War I) he is deported to Alexandria and then to the U.S. It is through a conversation with a friend just before his expulsion from Palestine that he realizes the depth of the animosity between Arabs and Jews: “As your friend I’m sorry,” the man tells him. “But as an Arab, I’m glad.” What should have been an exciting story up to this point is completely buried under a snowstorm of names and terms (organizations, Zionist factions, political parties, and their leaders) undoubtedly familiar to Shapira’s colleagues at Tel Aviv University where she is professor emerita but mostly unfamiliar to the readers for whom her Hebrew original has been translated into English. The first third of the book needn’t have been this difficult: a glossary, timeline, and maps (all absent) would have helped non-academic readers along until they reached more familiar territory: World War II, Ben-Gurion’s declaration, on Friday, May 14, 1948, of the establishment of the State of Israel, and his silent mourning in the middle of the rejoicing on that day, knowing, as few others seemed to, that not only would war follow but that it would be regional, not local. This is an enlightening biography, beneath all the clutter. Shapira is an Israeli historian with remarkably clear eyes, portraying both the revered and the reviled sides of her subject. Those intrepid enough to soldier through it will have a deeper understanding of the complexities of the current situation in the Middle East. This book is not a good read. It is, however, a should read.

Connie Nordhielm Wooldridge, Author

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