Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Abba Eban wouldn't have spent nearly as much time on Facebook

My father suggested I read Abba Eban's autobiography, since there's a gap in my knowledge of Israel and Zionism extending from maybe 1910 to 2004. As in, I know (or knew) all about the rival types of Zionism, the different events that led to modern Zionism, but not much about what actually came of all of it. So I'm taking a break from French-only reading to check this out.

Eban's autobiography is indeed filled with information on mid-20th-century happenings, but it is also the story of how this man, about whom I knew virtually nothing before opening the book, is pretty much better than everyone else. Which I suppose is fair--if you're writing the story of the years you lived from your own perspective, you might as well make yourself look good. But all the anecdotes about how he knew a trillion languages by age three, how the highest score was a double but he got a triple, how by age four he was being recruited to serve in top posts in a zillion different governments and universities, how some military position allowed him to score with many a local girl in England--despite having spent all the weekends of his youth studying Hebrew and weekdays studying the Classics--when did this man develop the social skills necessary for picking up all these women, uniform or no uniform?--all of this maybe could have been put a bit less boastfully.

While it's fascinating to read about what was happening in Palestine during World War II, the relationship between the British and the pre-IDF Jewish army there, I can't help but think of how Eban probably never thought things like, awesome, the vegetable store in Chelsea Market has a special on artichokes! Or, as a 12-year-old, do the cool kids like me? Would they like me more if I wore different sneakers? Or, as a 22-year-old, how would I look with long-ish bangs? It seemed to all be super-serious study for Eban, then matters of state when he got a little bit older, like, when I reached the age when I realized that maybe blue eyeshadow wasn't the way to go. Seems Eban dealt exclusively with questions of grave import, such as how to maintain friendly relations with the British, the Arabs, and the Jews of Palestine. Not pausing for a few minutes to determine which pair of jeans on his floor were more flattering with a new pair of sandals. He surely never experienced, as I did today, feelings of intense jealousy upon seeing a maybe eight-year-old boy reading a Hebrew translation of Harry Potter with ease. (I was relieved to hear his mother and brother speaking Hebrew--at least he was Israeli and not just much smarter than I am.) And I am certain Eban never, ever, put the television on at 20-after only to discover, much to his chagrin, that he'd missed 20 minutes of "The Nanny."


Anonymous said...

He'd rather have had such luxuries than be in a historical state requirin him to forego much of those freedoms. We get to sit on the beach in Eilat, sip Pina Coladas, and watch pseduo-porn on German tvs because people like Eban did the hard work.

Phoebe said...

That doesn't explain the pre-political years of intensive study, just for the heck of it.

And I wish I were a part of the "we" that got to sit on the beach in Eilat drinking a Pina Colada. Although point taken.

Anonymous said...

Did you read his autobiography by Random House?

It's pretty dry. You might want to check out My Life by Golda which describes a lot of the Zionist debates in the US she participated in before emigrating to Israel.