Academic journal article Shofar

Between the Backpack and the Tent: Home, Zionism, and a New Generation in Eshkol Nevo's Novels Homesick and Neuland

Academic journal article Shofar

Between the Backpack and the Tent: Home, Zionism, and a New Generation in Eshkol Nevo's Novels Homesick and Neuland

Article excerpt

Eshkol Nevo's summer bestseller Neuland (2011) soared to the top of both the commercial Steimatsky bestseller list and the more elitist independent bestseller list, where it remained for eight months-a feat unequaled in decades.1 The novel is a romantic travelogue in which Dori, a history teacher, leaves his wife and young son in order to search for his father Manny Peleg, who has disappeared in South America following the death of his beloved wife. With the help of Alfredo, his guide, who specializes in finding missing persons, and Inbar, a fellow traveler traumatized by the death of her brother, Dori undertakes an exploration not only of the landscape, but of his own troubled mind. His psychological transformation opens his heart to his father, to Zionism, and ultimately to Inbar.

The novel was a surprise hit in a summer when Israelis were preoccupied with social justice demonstrations against elevated food prices, an untenable rise in the cost of living, and the exorbitant price of housing. A tent city that sprang up on Rothschild Boulevard focused these disparate protests and served as a rallying cry, ultimately motivating similar responses throughout the country. Many of the country's authors, including Nevo, attended the rallies, offered free readings at their camping grounds, and in different ways supported the demonstrations. The rhetoric employed in the protests highlighted the disparity between the socialist origins of Zionism and the reality of Israel's capitalist economy which has exacerbated the divide between rich and poor. This was addressed during the demonstrations in the pillorying of old nationalist slogans, comically reworked posters, and the satiric renaming of Rothschild Boulevard as "If I were a Rothschild," a play on "If I Were A Rich Man," the signature song of Fiddler on the Roof.

The magnitude of the Israeli Social Justice Protests of summer 2011 came as a surprise to observers and participants alike. For a period of three months, hundreds of thousands took to the streets in a rallying cry to redefine national priorities thus turning in the process Israel's major metropolises into "rebel cities"-festive spaces of struggle and collective effervescence.2

The tent cities graphically illustrated the need for affordable housing, and symbolically played on the ideas of Israel as a national home whose responsibility was to house its Jewish citizens. If they could not afford apartments in the urban centers where jobs and education are located, then the public spaces would serve as venues for these new "pioneers" to build shelter.3 The employment of this Zionist historiocultural narrative was also evident in the tents' visual invocation of the tiyul; camping treks through the national landscape and international backpacking youth culture.4 Thus the young generation's call for a home, perhaps subconsciously invoking metaphors of travel, deployed the memes of Zionist ideology. Considered "exceptional travelers" in the scholarship on tourism and backpacking subculture, Israelis' experience of backpacking reveals two contradictory impulses: the desire to escape from society's strictures, its many rules, regulations, and authority figures, while at the same time appearing to cling to other countrymen; seeking out compatriots and opportunities to engage in Hebrew, share Israeli culture, and even enjoy aspects of Judaism-the very manifestations of the society they appear to be escaping.5

Neuland gently satirizes the Israeli backpackers' journey. The illusion of a unique travel experience is undermined when Dori and Inbar appear to be following a trail already well-trodden by previous Israeli trekkers. Thus the conventions of backpacking are bared, even as backpackers themselves remain unaware of the ironic contradictions in their behavior, a truth in the fiction and, according to sociological and rhetorical studies of Israeli tourists, also of life.

Though the backpackers repeatedly express a desire to distance themselves from fellow Israelis and from state-related organizations, they routinely follow similar itineraries during the trip, find themselves in, or seek, the company of other Israelis, and spend a good deal of their time in Israeli "enclaves. …

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