A.B. Yehoshua

To this author and social critic, Israeli identity comes first.

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(Re)writing History

In one of his earlier works, Yehoshua explains the importance of an honest account of history, even if it means engaging with a difficult and at times unfavorable past, in order to establish a just society. In the short story "Facing the Forests" (1962), Yehoshua raises the question of Israel's history, pushing readers to ask what is being covered up, urging the exposure of truth, regardless of how hard it may be.

While Yehoshua's fiction writing is nuanced, his public opinions are far less subtle. He speaks openly on the subject of a Palestinian state and the need to dismantle Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Yehoshua has been criticized in certain literary circles for his inability to affect the change he often speaks of, but it is impossible to ignore the intellectual dialogue his words have generated.

"Being Israeli is my skin"

When he was invited to speak at the American Jewish Committee's Centennial Symposium in May of 2006, Yehoshua remarked that "being Israeli is my skin, it's not my jacket." Implied in his remarks was the idea that Diaspora Jews could "put on" or "take off" their Jewish identity when it's convenient, but that Israeli Jewish identity involved no choice. Many of the symposium's attendees had heated reactions. Yehoshua later clarified in an AJC-published article:

Jewish-Israeli identity has to contend with all the elements of life via the binding and sovereign framework of a territorially defined state. And therefore the extent of its reach into life is immeasurably fuller and broader and more meaningful than the Jewishness of an American Jew, whose important and meaningful life decisions are made within the framework of American nationality or citizenship. His Jewishness is voluntary and deliberate, and he may calibrate its pitch in accordance with his needs.

The meaning of Jewish identity concerns Yehoshua, who believes it needs to be rooted in something more meaningful than the graves of the Jewish forefathers and foremothers:

Our Chateaux de la Loire, our Louvre, our Florence, our Michelangelo are texts. Our Louis Seize chair is a text.… [T]he Jews lived a thousand years in Poland, and what are the signs that they were there? Graveyards and texts. And so it is in texts that even the nonreligious must go to find their essence and their history.

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Stephanie Tankel

Stephanie Tankel is the Principal Educator at The West London Synagogue of British Jews, where she oversees the religion school and Europe's largest conversion program. Prior to moving to London, Stephanie lived in New York City where she earned a dual Master's degree in Jewish Education and Modern Jewish Studies from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.