Cover image for The imaginary voyage : with Theodor Herzl in Israel
The imaginary voyage : with Theodor Herzl in Israel
Peres, Shimon, 1923-2016.
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Voyage imaginaire. English
First English-language edition.
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New York : Arcade, [1999]

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216 pages ; 22 cm
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DS126.5 .P3913 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Ex Israeli Premier Shimon Peres takes us on an imaginary trip around Israel with Zionist leader Theodore Herzl. Together they contrast their impressions of this young country.

Author Notes

Shimon Peres was born in Poland in 1923 and immigrated to Israel in 1934. Over the years he held many key government posts, and was prime minister from 1984 to 1986 and again from 1995 to 1996. In 1994 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Former Israeli prime minister and Nobel Prize winner Peres undertakes an imaginary journey throughout Israel with Theodor Herzl, the spiritual father of Israel and author of The Jewish State, published in 1896. This geographic and political travelogue gives witness to the changes in Israel since Herzl first dreamed of an independent Jewish state. Peres notes that Israel has made more geographic than social and political progress. He highlights the differences between Herzl's vision and the reality of modern Israel. Herzl wanted German to be the official language of Israel, but Hebrew won that distinction, and he wanted to internationalize the city of Jerusalem, which remains the "eternal capital of the State of Israel." Peres also ponders Herzl's belief that the indigenous people of Israel should be treated as equals to Jews versus current policies that so often put Israeli interests in conflict with those of its Arab citizens. Peres' book is an interesting historical and political review of a nation that continues to struggle with its identity. --Vanessa Bush

Publisher's Weekly Review

Some of the same qualities for which he has been criticized throughout his long career as a statesman and politician make Peres an enjoyable writer: erudition (and a tendency to show it off), a taste for whimsy and a romantic streak. Peres, co-winner with Yitzak Rabin and Yasir Arafat of the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize, takes the reader on an imaginary journey around present-day Israel with Theodor Herzl (1860-1904), the father of modern Zionism. The imaginary Herzl proves a good foil to whom Peres explains concisely how Israel has evolved in so many ways: from a desert to an agricultural miracle; from an agricultural economy to a high-tech one; from a nation remarkably unified in spirit to one rent by factional discord. As befits a man who was twice prime minister and many times a member of Israel's cabinet, Peres demonstrates pride in what Israel has created and satisfaction in his own rise from Russian immigrant in 1923 to one of the country's elder statesmen. To his credit, however, Peres doesn't rely on a "what-miracles-has-the-state-produced" approach. He expresses, for example, his dismay with the lack of progress in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process since Benjamin Netanyahu and the Likud block defeated Peres's Labor Party in 1996. Part history, part autobiography and part patriotic romance, Peres's idiosyncratic tour of Israel and its history is more loving than it is thorough. But his love is not directed at a Jewish utopia but rather at a real state with all its real-world imperfections and perils. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Former prime minister Peres here gives an imaginary "back to the future" review of Israeli society, accomplishments, and political developments to the state's ideological founder, Theodore Herzl. Peres, himself an immigrant to Israel, takes the Hungarian journalist and initiator of political Zionism on a nostalgic tour of the country. Throughout this symbolic journey, he intertwines a popular history of the state that complements the official Zionist version. Nobel Peace Prize winner Peres comments on the European origins of Herzl's Zionism, comparing it with his own experiences of growing up Jewish in a Byelorussian hamlet. Herzl is characterized as a visionary of the people, while the country's first prime minister, David Ben Gurion, appears as founder of the state; both wanted peace. This very generalized and emotional story will be enjoyed by admirers of Israel and by general readers.ÄSanford R. Silverburg, Catawba Coll., Salisbury, NC (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One THE HILL OF SPRINGTIME N o doubt about it, and Herzl, my traveling companion, was aware of this almost immediately: today, getting from one place to another is quite different than it used to be. In earlier times, when a writer or a pilgrim -- be he Jewish, Muslim, or Christian -- set out for the Holy Land, his tour took on epic proportions. Not only would he have to brave the often angry waves of the Mediterranean, but there were also the pirates of the Barbary States to contend with, as well as brigands and bandits, and officials whose palms had to be greased. What was more, a voyager had to ride horseback or travel on the back of a mule along dusty, rutted roads, sleep under the stars, or stay at inns where bedbugs seemed to be given more preferential treatment than the guests. He had to brave the dangers of malaria and cope with the sun, the rain, and the icy winds of winter.     Such exploits often ended up bestowing immortality on the traveler, thanks to the publication of a tome in which he described in minute detail the sites he had visited as well as the perils he had faced and the dangers overcome. Thus there came into being a literary tradition in which the authors recounted their "Voyage to the Middle East," which included not only the medieval Jewish travelers Benjamin de Tudèle, Ovadia de Bertinoro, and Meshullam de Volterra, but also some of the great writers of world literature: Chateaubriand, Herman Melville, and Mark Twain, among others.     For those nineteenth-century voyagers, from whom we are separated by only decades -- a mere drop in the historical bucket -- traveling was not only an adventure but a battle against time. Sometimes one had to wait several weeks for a ship heading to Jaffa from Alexandria, Constantinople, or Beirut. And before they built a railway line between Jaffa and Jerusalem, the trip between that port and the City of David was an excursion that required at least one night's stopover, usually at the edge of the hills of Judea.     But that was not all. The traveler who had arrived from the West discovered little by little a whole new world. He found another civilization, other ways of dressing, eating, behaving, just as there was a whole new architecture to behold and a very different climate to adjust to, somewhere halfway between tropical and European. It was a time when the prospective traveler made sure to include in his luggage, next to the mosquito netting, linen suits made to order by special tailors, and the inevitable pith helmet replete with a white veil.     Today the world has become one big village through which one travels at breakneck speed. It takes no more than a few hours to travel from the center -- variously situated depending on one's nationality -- to its periphery. Wherever one goes, one finds the same hotels, comfortably air conditioned, one partakes of the same "international menu," which often includes the same food found back home. And, thanks to the miracle of the parabolic antennae, the voyager can, in most places, even see his own favorite TV show. The fax and the telephone keep today's traveler in close and constant contact with his family and colleagues, whereas in times past letters, carefully written and sealed with wax, took several weeks, if not months, to reach their destination.     Things have evolved to such a degree that we no longer "discover" countries the way we once did. In earlier times, we used to arrive, either by land or by sea, in a state of total fatigue. Today, planes touch down and let us off no more than a few miles from the capital, to which we are quickly whisked by bus, taxi, or rental car, without ever setting foot in those ports, which were once prosperous and teeming but today are eerily still, their empty docks waiting in vain for the return of the great passenger liners.     The principal port of entry to Israel is Lod, the Lydda of ancient medieval texts. That was the first surprise awaiting Theodor Herzl. A half surprise really, because his visionary intelligence had enabled him to foresee that in the future Jaffa, as a commercial seaport, would be swept into the dustbin of history. In his utopian novel, Old-New Land, which is set in 1923 (that is, two decades after it was written), visitors from the four corners of the earth arrive in Palestine and Jerusalem by train.     With all due respect to Herzl's prediction, Jerusalem's modest train station, located at the edge of the former German section of the city, is not where visitors streaming in from Paris and New York, Johannesburg and Moscow, Tokyo and Melbourne, Amman and Cairo -- and, it is to be hoped, sometime in the not too distant future, Baghdad, Damascus, and Beirut -- arrive in Israel, but rather at the David Ben-Gurion International Airport at Lod. A far cry from Herzl's arrival in 1897, or mine, thirty-seven years later. For us, Jaffa was the port of entry, both for freighters and passenger liners, whether people were voyaging first class or fourth. In 1921, the German novelist Arthur Hollitscher published a book entitled Travels through Jewish Palestine , which became the breviary for tourists worldwide. It began with this sentence, "The reefs of Jaffa are not a metaphor."     The cautionary note was well founded. From earliest times, Jaffa was rightly reputed to be a particularly dangerous port. Between the shore and the high seas was a barrier reef that, whenever the winds were up, was battered mercilessly by the waves. Unable to dock, arriving ships anchored at a respectful distance from the shore. Longboats were dispatched to unload the passengers who gingerly descended the ladders and gangways. And throughout the trip from ship to shore the skies echoed with the terrified cries of the passengers, for the boats were often overloaded as they made their way, bobbing and weaving, around the looming reefs. Accidents, while not frequent, did indeed occur. Part of the problem was that the men who rowed the boats were paid so much per round trip, and thus they tended to take risks.     I often think of those anonymous voyagers who, having reached the threshold of the Promised Land, perished at sea just off Jaffa. It would be hard to conceive of a more terrible, more tragic end: to be literally within striking distance of your ancestral homeland only to perish by drowning. Which brings to mind the fate of Yehuda Halevi, the great Judeo-Spanish poet of the Middle Ages, who sang with such eloquence of Jerusalem in his Sionides. "My body is in the West," he sang, "but my heart is in the East." His poems were composed before he ever set foot in the Promised Land, and when at last he came and saw the proud walls of Jerusalem rising before his eyes, he was so moved he began to recite an elegy he had written, at which point a horseman, either Muslim or Christian -- the versions differ -- swooped down and killed him. Thus did Yehuda Halevi join the long list of lovers of Zion who lost their hearts and then their lives en route to the Holy Land.     The memory of those who drowned just off Jaffa is mingled in my mind with that of the passengers of the ship Pisces , filled with immigrants clandestinely leaving Morocco. In 1959, the Pisces went down just off the Moroccan shores. And then there were of course all those Jews fleeing Nazi-overrun Europe during World War II, who were packed like sardines into unseaworthy old tubs and perished either in the Mediterranean or the Black Sea.     Today, tourists who go to dine at one of the many excellent seafood restaurants in Jaffa probably have no notion of the dramatic and often tragic scenes to which the city was witness in years past. The lapping of the waves against the shore drowns out the laments of those who perished there over the centuries. These souls form a kind of silent and invisible hedge at the entrance to Israel, as if they wish to remind us in their own way that they too are an integral part of a dream they were destined not to fulfill.     And in a sense they did contribute to the building of the city that sprang from the sand centuries after their deaths. In fact, the memory of how difficult it was to arrive by sea at Jaffa, of those terrifying minutes on the longboats, which seemed constantly on the verge of capsizing, explains why the founders of Tel Aviv made a point of building their city with its back to the sea. In their minds, it was not only to cut off all links with the notion of exile, but also because the angry waves of the Mediterranean had been the graveyard of so many of their people. * * * Both Herzl and I could bear witness to the fact that our first, separate contacts with Eretz Israel were rough. I tend to forget the emotion I felt on board ship when I saw, beneath my astonished gaze, the thin strip of land piercing the horizon. It was the Holy Land, the mythical land of Israel that Jews the world over, throughout their interminable exile, evoked at least three times a day in their prayers. To make contact with that blessed earth seemed to me a miracle; to arrive there safe and sound even more so! I can still vividly remember the awe that my mother, my brother Gershon, and I all felt at that moment. And yet, only minutes before, upon first feasting our eyes on that strip of land, which to that moment we had seen only in the few photographs that had managed to reach us in Vichneva, my heart leapt with joy. I was, at long last, actually going to set foot on that blessed land, the only tangible proof of which had till then been the occasional box of Jaffa oranges sent to us by relatives who had emigrated earlier, oranges of a sweetness beyond compare.     Despite all its dangerous aspects, arriving in Jaffa had one distinct advantage: from one's very first steps one could sense the inextricable tangle of peoples and religions living in this corner of the world, as well as the full weight of history in general and that of each people in particular. Side by side lived Jews, Arabs, Armenians, Greeks, not to mention French and Italian missionaries.     Jaffa, one will recall (in Hebrew Yaffo , the root of which means "beautiful"), was the city of the prophet Jonah. God had ordered Jonah to issue a warning to the inhabitants of Nineveh, and he had refused, after which he embarked on a ship for Tarshish. A terrible storm came up and the sailors, blaming Jonah for their woes, tossed him into the sea, where he was swallowed by a whale. After three days and three nights, the whale deposited Jonah safely on shore, whence he made his way to Nineveh and fulfilled his mission.     Jaffa was also the Joppé of Greek mythology, the birthplace of Andromeda, the daughter of King Cepheus and Queen Cassiopeia, whose beauty brought down upon her the wrath of the sirens. Humiliated, the naiads -- the nymphs of brooks, springs, and fountains -- prevailed upon Poseidon, the god of the sea, to bring about a tidal wave and create a sea monster. King Cepheus, consulting the oracle of Ammon, was told that the only way to appease Poseidon was to sacrifice Andromeda to the sea monster. Andromeda was duly enchained upon the enormous rock that faced the city of Jaffa. But before the monster had a chance to feast upon the poor girl, Perseus, the son of Zeus and Danaë, saved her by cutting off the monster's head, which fell into the sea and, again legend has it, formed the rock of Joppè, where the two lovers married and lived happily ever after. What a pity that Perseus, while he was at it, did not see fit to rearrange the harbor of Jaffa! When both Herzl and I first arrived at Jaffa, even thirty-seven years apart, the port city was already in full decline. Neither the passage of time nor the people who lived there had been kind to the place, which had been destroyed and rebuilt several times. Arabs, crusaders, Mongols, and Mamluks had successively ravaged it, before it was finally conquered by Napoleon Bonaparte. Over the centuries, churches, convents, and mosques had raised their spires and steeples there, but when Chateaubriand visited Jaffa in the nineteenth century, he wrote, with more than a trace of bitterness, "The misfortunes so often visited upon this city have multiplied the ruins one finds there." He added disdainfully that "the city consists of little more than a wretched, circular pile of houses arranged as a kind of amphitheater set into the slope of a high hill."     Chateaubriand, who would later go on to become the French foreign minister, made no mention of any Jewish community there, however small. We do know that in 1173 Benjamin de Tudèle had noted the existence of one Jewish inhabitant, a modest dyer. But it was not until 1820 that the children of Israel came to Jaffa to stay. That year a Jew from Constantinople, a certain Rabbi Yeshaya Adjiman, bought a house in Jaffa, the dar al-Yahud (the house of the Jew), which served as a hostel for Jews arriving from Europe and the Mediterranean basin. In short order, Jews from Morocco and Algeria began to arrive in Jaffa, creating the embryo of a Jewish community.     When Herzl arrived in Jaffa in 1897, there were already several hundred Jews from several countries living there, mixed in with the Arab population. The place had a terrible reputation, not only because of its port. Here is his description of what he found: The narrow streets, which smell to high heaven, are unsanitary and poorly kept up. On all sides one can see nothing but multifaceted misery: indigent Turks, filthy Arabs, fearful Jews, all living in complete idleness, hopeless poverty, without a shred of hope. One's nostrils are filled with the unpleasant smell of putrefaction, the odor of mold and mildew. What a surprise was in store for Herzl when he saw that same place today. Completely renovated, it has become a kind of Israeli Montmartre.     Several years after Herzl's scathing report, David Ben-Gurion's judgment was equally harsh. Arriving from the Polish shtetl of Plonsk, he wrote, "Jaffa is worse than Plonsk. This is not the land of Israel. I refuse to remain here one more minute." Most new immigrants felt the same way. The filth and decrepitude of the Jaffa houses took them aback; many of them renounced their dreams of remaining in Palestine. They preferred more modern and salubrious cities such as Alexandria or Beirut or, more often, that new Promised Land across the Atlantic, the United States, which during this period became home for hundreds of thousands of Jews. It mattered little what their fate might be in the New World, even if it meant working long hours in the sweatshops of the garment district or hawking vegetables on pushcarts. Within a few years the newcomers would have amassed enough money to move out to the suburbs of New York or Chicago, where there was fresh air to breathe and elementary rules of hygiene were in force.     When Herzl traveled to modern Israel, he had but one desire, and that was to avoid Jaffa at all cost. I planned, therefore, to whisk him off to the model farm school of Mikveh Israel. Founded in 1870 by the Universal Israelite Alliance under the initiative of the Frenchman Charles Netter, Mikveh Israel was the first Jewish agricultural colony in Palestine in the modern era. It was the first place Herzl visited after he arrived in Jaffa a century ago, and it was there, on October 28, 1898, on the eve of the Sabbath, that he fortuitously met, on the Avenue of the Palm Trees just at the entrance of the school, Kaiser Wilhelm II, who was on an official visit. For years Herzl had been trying to set up an appointment with the Kaiser, to enlist his aid in convincing the Turkish sultan to grant a charter of colonization for the Zionist movement.     Even today, one has a hard time envisioning this strange encounter between a reigning monarch, upon whom the fate of millions of subjects depended, and a simple journalist, which Herzl was at the time. Moreover Herzl dared expound for the Kaiser's benefit his daring ideas, which many people at the time dismissed as little more than a crazy dream. It must have taken an enormous amount of chutzpah to set forth for the emperor his dream of completely transforming Palestine by a massive immigration of Jews.     "You have seen this land with your own eyes, your Majesty," Herzl exclaimed. "Would you not agree that it offers itself to mankind, that it cries out for them to come and save it from the sterility and stagnation into which it has fallen?"     To which the Kaiser responded with broad generalities, simply muttering that in his view the country "was in great need of water, a great deal of water."     Both men were right. But the Zionist leader, though caught up in his dream, was in fact being more realistic. He was simply anticipating what would inevitably come to pass. It mattered little whether people took him for a false prophet or a madman. He could not have cared less. In fact, Herzl's successor in the Zionist movement, Chaim Weizmann, was fond of saying, "You don't have to be crazy to be a Zionist, but it certainly helps."     Now, more than a century after Herzl's initial visit to Israel, that madness guided us throughout our voyage. For however much the man was a visionary and a genius, Herzl could not have imagined the changes that have taken place in the interim, changes that, in some instances, drove him almost crazy. (Continues...) Copyright © 1998 Edition °1.

Table of Contents

Introductionp. 1
1. The Hill of Springtimep. 13
2. The Walls of Jerusalemp. 49
3. The Bay of Hopep. 79
4. Generationsp. 109
5. Passionsp. 135
6. A Year in Moscowp. 161
7. Returning to the Beginningp. 187
Epiloguep. 201
Thanksp. 215