Editorial |

A.B. Yehoshua, the Man Who Refused to Despair

Haaretz Editorial
A.B. Yehoshua  1 by Rafaela Fahn Schoffman0
A.B. YehoshuaCredit: Rafaela Fahn Schoffman
Haaretz Editorial

A.B. Yehoshua was one of the greatest Israeli authors. But the man who wrote “Mr. Mani,” “Five Seasons,” “Facing the Forests” and “The Lover” was also a socially-involved intellectual who represented the generation of this country's founders.

In his essay collections, like “Between Right and Right,” “The Wall and the Mountain” and “Homeland Grasp,” he gave voice to his biting, uncompromising polemical thought.

Yehoshua dove deep into definitions of identity in order to get to the heart of the matter, and his conclusions were sometimes painful and even offensive (as American Jews learned when he claimed they were only “partial Jews”), hard to digest (like his demand for the creation of clear physical and mental boundaries to stop what he termed the neurotic diaspora condition of assimilation, or his urging that people not give in to the past and nostalgia because “roots need to be severed”). At times, they were also shocking (his view of the Holocaust as a Jewish defeat rather than a disaster that befell it).

What all of these have in common is the view that the first commitment of any individual – and therefore, of any nation – is to his own subjectivity, his sovereignty over himself. This must be the fruit of his own ongoing decisions, and it is based first and foremost on responsibility. There is no one to blame, only ourselves. The individual chooses. This is the legacy of the generation that came of age in the Israel's early years, and Yehoshua was the one who best expressed it – a person must not relinquish himself.

Like others of that generation, Yehoshua didn’t make a clear separation between the personal and the public. He didn’t fuse his personal and ideological existence with Zionism and the state the way the literary groups that came before him did, but he nevertheless viewed Israel as a life’s work.

And the way to participate in the work was to be “inside” – to read, write, speak and persuade. To act. The individual remains the individual, but one of Yehoshua’s main avenues of self-expression, perhaps even the main avenue, was the part he freely played in the Israeli project. That is where he directed a significant portion of his intellectual power, talent, energy and moral concern. Israel remained the great work – a collective work built by sworn individualists.

Anyone who tried to make despairing comments about Israel’s future to him was met with his refusal to get upset. For him, the state was such a tremendous historical achievement that its illnesses and the dissatisfaction it aroused were no more than marginal.

It would survive the right and the growing religious extremism, it would even survive the assimilation of Palestinian residents of the occupied territories if, as he came to believe in recent years, we would never succeed in dividing the land, because the country was bigger than all of this. Therefore, Yehoshua also never ceased fighting for peace with the Palestinians and never ceased extending a hand for cooperation with Israel’s Arab citizens. His legacy must be remembered.

The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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