I’ve always admired Israeli women. Though I didn’t see any in the flesh before my first trip to the Promised Land 20 years ago, at Sunday School I far preferred the complex women of the Old Testament – Deborah the judge, Yael the assassin, Ruth the first philo-Semite – to the repenting hookers and grieving mothers of the New. The book of Exodus revolves around the actions of five women; the Talmud teaches that ‘the Jewish people were redeemed from Egypt because of the merit of the righteous women of that generation’.
Though the nation of Israel is first mentioned in an Egyptian artefact from 1200BC while ‘Palestine’ has only had its own flag since 1964 (during a 1981 exchange with the US Ambassador to Israel, Menachem Begin said ‘Jews have survived without a strategic cooperation memorandum with America for 3,700 years – and can live without it for another 3,700 years’) ceaseless invasion and persecution had driven the Hebrew diaspora to every corner of the world, where forced conversion and pogroms welcomed them.
In the early years of the 20th century when the level of murderousness against the Jews of Eastern Europe became too much for even this eternally persecuted people, Theodor Herzl’s audacious dream – that the Jews could return to their ancestral homeland – became a reality as many of the young generation of the diaspora retraced their forebears footsteps back to Judea. These were the decades when the kibbutz rebuilt the land, gone to rack and ruin in the absence of the Jews; though of necessity agrarian, the kibbutz project was steeped in modern ideas of socialism and to some extent feminism in that women were expected to work as hard as men – whether they liked it or not.