With a light touch and many wonderful illustrations, historian Anat Helman investigates "life on the ground" in Israel during the first years of statehood. She looks at how citizens--natives of the land, longtime immigrants, and newcomers--coped with the state's efforts to turn an incredibly diverse group of people into a homogenous whole. She investigates the efforts to make Hebrew the lingua franca of Israel, the uses of humor, and the effects of a constant military presence, along with such familiar aspects of daily life as communal dining on the kibbutz, the nightmare of trying to board a bus, and moviegoing as a form of escapism. In the process Helman shows how ordinary people adapted to the standards and rules of the political and cultural elites and negotiated the chaos of early statehood.
Practical Zionism in the Mandate era (1920–1948) is usually associated with agricultural settlements (kibbutzim), organized socialist workers, and the creation of a formal high culture. This book fills a gap in historical research by presenting a different type of practical Zionism in Jewish Palestine—urban, middle-class, and created by popular and informal daily practices. While research on Tel Aviv has so far been confined to “positivist” historical description or focused nostalgically on local myths, Helman’s book reconstructs and analyzes the city’s formative decades on various levels, juxtaposing historical reality with cultural images and ideological doctrines. Topics include the city’s physical portrait, major public events, consumer culture, patterns of leisure and entertainment, and urban subcultures.