As the Israeli-born novelist and playwright A.B. Yehoshua reminds his readers, Israel is a tiny country. One can drive from Mount Peres, Israel’s easternmost point, in the north to Kibbutz Kerem Shalom on the Egyptian frontier, the nation’s westernmost outpost, in about six hours, and that includes a stop for lunch. Yet it is a land of contrasts, of the seven thousand-foot Mount Hebron and the Jordan Valley that drops to six hundred feet below sea level. Eilat averages one inch of rain a year, while areas in the north receive some sixty inches of precipitation annually.
The people are as diverse as the country in which they live. There are Ashkenazi Jews from Europe and Oriental Jews from Yemen and Ethiopia; “Black Jews” who deny Israel’s legitimacy as strongly as the most extreme Palestinians and Druze Christians who are among the country’s fiercest defenders; Sabras (natives) and Olim (immigrants); religious zealots and secularists. However divergent their backgrounds and beliefs, though, on Holocaust Memorial Day they all join in two minutes of silence that reveals a fundamental unity.
Israel’s contrasts of terrain and people are evident in the photographs of Frederic Brenner. On facing pages one finds a brightly colored modern billboard and a fragment of the Dead Sea Scrolls, an ancient Byzantine frieze and the solar panels of the Weizmann Institute, Jews at the Wailing Wall on Tishah b’Ab mourning the destruction of the Temple and Russian Orthodox nuns walking the Via Dolorosa on Good Friday. The girl on page 102 plays a violin; opposite her another girl examines a submachine gun.
These splendid pictures not only illustrate the text but also respond to it. Brenner offers the perspective of a European Jew, Yehoshua that of a fifth-generation Sabra.
Published to coincide with the fortieth anniversary of Israeli Independence, this book celebrates the country’s beauty, energy, complexity, and history. Without ignoring problems such as the Palestinian question that challenge Israel’s future, the volume is a tribute to the nation. In its sensitivity and vision, it is a tribute to its creators as well.