Hollander, Philip. From Schlemiel to Sabra: Zionist Masculinity and Palestinian Hebrew Literature.

AuthorTuschling, Lina

Hollander, Philip. From Schlemiel to Sabra: Zionist Masculinity and Palestinian Hebrew Literature. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2019.

In From Schlemiel to Sabra, Philip Hollander offers a nuanced and well-researched view on the emergence of Zionist masculinity in the years prior to statehood. A scholar of Israeli literature and culture, Hollander shows that a counter to the dominant narrative of the emergence of Zionist Israeli masculinity, the sabra identity, was developing concurrently: self-evaluative masculinity. With Jewish communities facing existential threats in Europe and Russia at the beginning of the twentieth century, the need arrived for reenvisioning Jewish identity that was consistent with Zionist ideals of establishing Israeli statehood and active self-defense. Gender played a crucial role in this attempted transformation in the literary works, as Hollander shows: "Agnon was employing gendered representations to communicate his belief that the Jewish people were in crisis. Portrayed as feminized, the Jewish people needed to undergo change to survive and thrive" (63). The "new Jew" was defined in contrast to the diasporic Jew and focused largely on redefining the Jewish man. The Yiddish word schlemiel describes the diasporic Jew as "an awkward, clumsy person, a blunderer; a 'born loser'; a 'dope' or 'drip'" (3). While there was consensus in the Jewish communities about the need to transform perceptions and, importantly, self-perceptions of the Jewish man in Palestine, little research has investigated the lesser-known strands of the cultural transformation attempts. The dominant perception of Jewish (Israeli) masculinity rests on the sabra identity, at the core the body centered ideal image of a stereotypically masculine fighter willing to fight and die for his country and nation. Focusing on self-evaluative masculinity, Hollander presents a form of Zionist masculinity that "did not achieve a hegemonic cultural position within the New Yishuv" (19). Shaped by homosocial relations and the willingness to include aspects of diasporic life into the new identity, self-evaluative masculinity stood in stark contrast to the sabra identity that sought a clear cut from life and identity in the diaspora.

In the introduction, Hollander shares his own journey toward his keen interest in Hebrew literature in Palestine before Israeli statehood was realized. Together with the afterword, these two sections' focus on Jewish life and...

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