The story of the Israeli 55th Paratroopers Reserve Brigade, which was instrumental in the victory in the 1967 Six-Day War.
In the ensuing years, the members of the 55th came to represent the deep political, cultural and religious divisions in Israel. Shalom Hartman Institute scholar Halevi (At the Entrance to the Garden of Eden: A Jew’s Search for God with Christians and Muslims in the Holy Land, 2001, etc.) relates the history of Israel from 1967 to the present by focusing on a handful of individuals from the old 55th and interweaving their divergent and arresting stories. There are, of course, somewhat detailed accounts of wars (1967, 1973—maps included), terrorist attacks, the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, and negotiations with the PLO and others, but for the most part, Halevi allows his cast members to tell their stories. Among them are Yisrael Harel, who became a journalist; Avital Geva, who eventually had a career in art that dovetailed with his kibbutz life; Yoel Bin-Nun, a Zionist and kibbutz leader; Arik Achmon, whose career varied from aviation to business consultation and politics; Meir Ariel, who became “the greatest Hebrew poet-singer of his generation,” then segued into religious studies; Udi Adiv, who became an active anti-Zionist, spent 12 years in prison and then earned a doctorate in London before returning to Israel to teach. Halevi also follows the personal lives of his principals, covering marriages, divorces, family relationships, and children, and he shows how some of them became political and religious opponents. Among the most divisive issues: the surrender of lands (the Sinai, the West Bank) gained in 1967, the issue of settlements in disputed territories, and the debate about “peace at any cost” and Zionism itself.
An artful, affecting blend of history, biography, political science, and religion and an illustration of how small lights can illuminate a large landscape.