Non-Zion­ist ex­iles and es­capees to Is­rael

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - By Alain Brossart and Sylvia Kling­berg

Verso, £16.99 Re­viewed by Colin Shindler

NOT ALL Jews who em­i­grated to Is­rael in the last cen­tury were Zion­ists. Some Trot­sky­ists, Bundists and loy­alCom­mu­nistswentt­o Is­rael as a refuge from the Nazi in­ferno and Stalin’s gu­lag. Scarred by such mur­der­ous regimes, these sur­vivors of Red Yid­dish­land rep­re­sented the ship­wreck of a gen­er­a­tion — a mass move­ment of rad­i­calised Jews in Europe who be­lieved that “an­other world was pos­si­ble”.

In 1983, the au­thors of this in­ter­est­ing “His­tory of Jewish Rad­i­cal­ism” in­ter­viewed the few who had man­aged to reach Is­rael. Some re­mained com­mit­ted to the be­liefs of their youth while oth­ers had em­braced Zion­ism.

The book fo­cuses mainly on Com­mu­nists, Bundists and the ad­her­ents of Left Poale Zion (LPZ). In 1905, the Bund boasted 30,000 mem­bers while the RSDLP, the fore­run­ner of the Bol­she­viks, had only 8,500.

In the 1920s, mul­ti­tudes of Jews — some for­mer Zion­ists — flooded into the Soviet Com­mu­nist party to build Zion in the USSR at a time when the De­ter­mi­na­tion within a grim world: Jewish re­sis­tance fight­ers in Poland very idea of a He­brew repub­lic in Pales­tine was a pipe-dream.

David Gryn­berg of LPZ wanted to make Eretz Is­rael into a Com­mu­nist coun­try. Other re­cent im­mi­grants joined the Pales­tine Com­mu­nist party be­cause they per­ceived in­jus­tices di­rected at the in­dige­nous Arabs.

Through their in­ter­views, the au­thors de­scribe the grind­ing poverty in east­ern Europe that was ex­pe­ri­enced by work­ing-class Jews. Yaakov Green­stein re­mem­bered that his mother placed a loaf of bread on the ta­ble for their evening meal. But she re­fused to slice it be­fore her hus­band came home for fear that her rav­en­ous chil­dren would devour all of it.

Like many oth­ers, Bro­nia Zel­mano a re­li­gious home but found sal­va­tion in Marx and Plekhanov in­stead. She asked “how can God per­mit such in­jus­tice?”

For­eign Com­mu­nists tried their ut­most to “es­cape” to the Soviet Union, only to be con­fronted by the dark re­al­ity of Stalin’s state.

Adam Paszt fi­nally reached the utopia of his dreams and was be­wil­dered when he was asked to pay for his tram ticket. He had be­lieved that, un­der Soviet so­cial­ism, travel was free. The other pas­sen­gers laughed up­roar­i­ously.

For some, the journey to Is­rael was long and ar­du­ous. Solomon Fishkowski was a Trot­sky­ist, ar­rested in 1927 dur­ing Stalin’s at­tempt to liq­ui­date the op­po­si­tion.

Re­peat­edly in­car­cer­ated in camps and pris­ons, he was al­lowed to leave for Is­rael only in 1970, fol­low­ing a hard­fought cam­paign to em­i­grate. When in­ter­viewed at the age of 84, he still viewed him­self as a revo­lu­tion­ary.

The au­thors are them­selves ac­tivists on the far left in France and Is­rael. The oc­ca­sional anti-Zion­ist an­i­mus and tele­scop­ing of Jewish his­tory mars an other­wise ab­sorb­ing ac­count.

The lost world of Yid­dish­land and Jewish in­ter­na­tion­al­ism is food for ide­o­log­i­cal thought to­day in a time of aus­ter­ity and ad­ver­sity. Colin Shindler’s next book ‘The He­brew Repub­lic: Is­rael’s Re­turn to His­tory’ will be pub­lished by Row­man and Lit­tle­field next year

Irène Némirovsky: bril­liance in ad­ver­sity

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