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Natalie Rice

David Berlin
photo by Amanda Wyman


By Natalie Shibou-Rice, posted December 1, 2011


Review of  Moral Lives of Israelis, Random House, 2011

David Berlin, was born in Israel, grew up in Toronto returning to Israel for several years in his late teens and early 20's. The book, The Moral Lives of Israelis is a non-fiction mix of memoir, history, and politics.  I knew nothing about Berlin when I began reading and approached the book with an open mind. From the first paragraph I was struck by his anger which set the tone for the entire book and clouds the reader's ability to get at the essence of his writing.

Berlin sees himself as a secular Jew, and has a clear dislike for religion, and and expresses an antipathy for moderate or right of center political ideas. He has a difficult time reconciling the role of religion in the establishment of a Jewish state. In his opening paragraph he describes the first generation of Sabras as having "... no clue of what they were doing and even less of a clue of who they were." That quote in my opinion, defines Berlin's internal struggles.

Berlin's bitterness begins in elementary school. His childhood trauma stems from his parents' decision to have him called by his second name, David, when he moves to Toronto and starts school. The school principal encourages the switch since the children and teachers have a hard time pronouncing his first name, Zafrir. To the author, Zafrir, represents secular Israel, while the name David, is more biblical or religious in nature. It appears his parents made the decision with good intentions, yet he holds it against them until their deaths. From the time his parents agree to have him called David at school, the author stops addressing his father as "father "or "dad" as a retaliation for that decision.

Berlin at times comes across as partisan and suspicious in his discussion about the actions of various Israeli political leaders. The chapter in which he discusses the withdrawal from Gaza, is filled with accusations and anger aimed at Ariel Sharon and other members of the Likud. He supports the withdrawal from Gaza, yet criticizes those involved in the implementation. One gets the impression that he was disappointed that the withdrawal went smoothly. Berlin vilifies the settlers and views them as nothing more than religious zealots. He describes the Rabbis departing from the synagogue in Neve Dekalim as,"... a line of lemmings...".

The  message Berlin is trying to convey is that Israel should not be a Jewish State but a state for the Jews. He offers no concrete ideas, and comes across as an embittered man with much criticisms but few answers .

Natalie Shibou-Rice was born in Winnipeg and graduated from the University of Manitoba. She has travelled extensively throughout Israel during the past 35 years and spent several years teaching Judaic Studies. She currently lives with her family in Los Angeles, California.

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