Herman Wouk and Burying His Zionism
May 23, 2019
Wouk, the famed novelist who first became a household name for his 1951
Pulitzer Prize winning The Caine Mutiny died last week nearly
70 years after achieving fame. Besides his long career
as a writer he was also a lifelong Zionist.
fact of Wouk’s love affair with the State of Israel has been completely absent
from the many articles celebrating his literary career
and marking his passing, less than two weeks before what would have
been his 104th birthday.
this small space we will attempt to rectify that.
and again — from his 1959 first non-fiction work This is My
God: The Jewish Way of Life through his pair of books about
modern Israel The Hope (1993) and The Glory (1994) until his second
nonfiction book, published in 2000, The Will to Live On: This is Our
Heritage — Wouk focused much of his literary abilities on
no line in any of his books demonstrates his love of Israel
more than this one from This is My God: “The first time I saw the lights
of the (Israeli) airport in the dusk from the descending plane, I experienced a
sense of awe that I do not expect to know again in this life.” Wouk, an
Orthodox Jew, synthesized his love of Torah with his love of the
reborn Jewish state.
And his view
of Zionism is also clearly laid out in This is My God: “Zionism is
a single long action of lifesaving, of snatching great masses of people out of
the path of sure extinction.”
Wouk loved Israel and America and we should emulate that attachment to the Land of the Free as well as to the reborn Jewish State.
years later in The Will to Live On, Wouk, as he inter-wove Jewish
history and shared stories of his personal interaction with David Ben-Gurion,
Yitzhak Rabin, and other leading Israeli generals and politicians,
showed that his love of Israel was clearly undiminished. “The
resurgence of Jewry in the Holy Land is nothing but phenomenal,” he wrote.
been a U.S. Naval officer during World War Two and his love of the
Israeli military and respect for its accomplishments was a large part of his Israel
novels The Hope and The Glory.
two books can be juxtaposed with his pair of famous World War Two
novels The Winds of War (1971) and War and Remembrance (1978).
In his Israel novels the heroine Natalie Jastrow undergoes a long
and tortured journey from American Jewish girl to Holocaust victim to Zionist.
Wouk penned the introduction to the 1980 English version of Self Portrait
of a Hero: The Letters of Jonathan Netanyahu. Yoni’s brothers, Benjamin and
Iddo Netanyahu, put together the book. “My parents like his were
Zionists,” writes Wouk. Later in the introduction he explains his connection
to Israel. “Like most American Jews we believe in Israel and support it, buy
Israel Bonds, make frequent trips there; I give speeches for Israeli causes and
so forth,” and then relates how the book allowed him to better understand his own
son’s desire to make his home in the modern Jewish state.
Washington Post, The New York Times, The Jerusalem Post as well as wire
services and other newspapers all managed to leave Zionism out of
their summations of Wouk’s life. Whether deliberate or not, this missing
piece of his life surely matters as one simply cannot understand
Wouk without realizing the central place Zionism occupied in his life,
no less than his love of Torah and his deep faith.
passion for the well-being of his fellow Jews and for Israel
should serve as a reminder to American Jews of how the Greatest Generation also
bore witness to the horrors of the Holocaust and the rebirth of Israel.
Those who reflected on what they saw were forever changed. Wouk loved
Israel and America and we should emulate that attachment to the
Land of the Free as well as to the reborn Jewish State.
Portrait of a Hero is a must read; it contains Yoni Netanyahu’s letters
to family and friends from 1963 when he first entered high school in the
Philadelphia suburbs to just days before the rescue of hostages at Entebbe. His intellect,
patriotism, compassion, dedication to duty and leadership are all on
full display, amplifying the loss of someone who had just turned 30. The book
had a profound effect on Wouk and if you have not read it do yourself a favor
and read it and you too will be forever changed by it.