The Moral Lives of Israelis

Reinventing the Dream State

Publisher: Vintage Canada

The Moral Lives of Israelis explores the last ten years of life in Israel, a sixty-one-year-old country that has never not been in a state of war. The last words given to David Berlin by his father, a Sabra who had fought for Israel's independence, were not words of love for his son and his grandchildren, but this command: "Look after my little country." These words set off a huge voyage of exploration and remembrance for Berlin.
     The result is a thrilling blend of memoir, reportage and original thinking on the place of Israel in the world. The fundamental question that floats over every page of this passionate book is, with so many missteps and in a region deeply fraught with antagonism, racism and misunderstanding, how can Israel move forward? After many dead ends and twists and turns, it is the nineteenth-century visionary father of Zionism, Theodor Herzl, who ultimately sparks Berlin's dream for Israel in the twenty-first century--it is Herzl's insistence on a secular and cosmopolitan state that Berlin sees as a way to move beyond.
     David Berlin's brave inquiry brings a startling new perspective to a question that resonates well beyond the borders of Israel.


My parents called me Zafrir, which in Hebrew means zephyr, a cool morning breeze like the one that blew me into Assuta Hospital on May 14, 1951. The morning I was born, that gentle current of air soon broke into the flattening, scorching wind that the Arabs call hamsin and Israelis call sharav; even the...
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"David Berlin weaves together the personal, intergenerational, cultural, religious and political strands of a complicated story of passion and hope.... He invites us to take another look at worn-out solutions to this seemingly intractable conflict. It is a wonderful addition to the canon of writings on the Middle East." The Rev. Dr. Bill Phipps, moderator, United Church of Canada, 1997-2000
"Berlin's family history makes for the perfect example to illustrate the larger tale.... A beautifully written, truly heart-wrenching book." The Winnipeg Review