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The Sabra - Abstract

The Sabras were the first Israelis-the first generation, born in the 1930s and 1940s, to grow up in the Zionist settlement in Palestine. Socialized and educated in the ethos of the Zionist labor movement and the communal ideals of the kibbutz and moshav, they turned the dream of their pioneer forebears into the reality of the new State of Israel. While the Sabras were a small minority of the new society's population, their cultural influence was enormous. Their ideals, their love of the land, their leisure culture of bonfires and singalongs, their adoption of Arab accessories, their slang, their gruff, straightforward manner, together with their reserved, almost puritanical attitude towards individual relationships, were the cultural fulfillment of the utopian ideal of the new Jew. Oz Almog's lively, systematic, and convincing portrait of the Sabras considers their lives, thought, and role in Jewish history. The most comprehensive study of this exceptional generation to date, The Sabra provides a complex and unflinching analysis of accepted norms and an impressive appraisal of the Sabra, one that any examination of the new Israeli reality must take into consideration.

The Sabras - became Palmach commanders, soldiers in the British Brigade and, later, officers in the Israeli Defense Forces - were a source of inspiration and emulation for an entire society.

Drawing on rich and varied source material, including poems, letters, youth movement and army newsletters, and much more, Almog portrays the Sabras' attitudes towards the Arabs, war, nature, work, agriculture, cooperation, and education.

Almog's pioneering book measures the myths against the realities, and in the process limns a collective profile that brilliantly encompasses the complex forces that shaped this remarkable generation.


The Sabra - Table Of Contents

  1. Idealistic Euphoria

  2. The Elect Son of the Chosen People

  3. Dunce Cap

  4. The Stamp of His Country’s Landscape

  5. Uri of Arabia

  6. Monks in Khaki

  7. Our Gang

  8. Epilogue

​Table Of Contents
Media Coverage

The Sabra - Media Coverage

The Sabra became a significant media event in Israel (the Hebrew version), few days after its publication (on February 1997).  It was reviewed on the Israel Broadcasting Authority’s Channel One, as well as on numerous radio and television programs around the country. Razi Barkai, one of Israel radio’s leading broadcasters, dedicated half an hour of his popular program to the book.  Barkai commented that Dr. Almog's book is the most significant and comprehensive study of Israeli national identity since Amos Eilon’s book, The Israelis.


The English version was featured or quoted in many major media, including:

The Sunday Times

Times Literary Supplement

Social Sciences Booklist

Multicultural Review


Choice (Current Reviews for Academic Libraries)

The Jewish Chronicle

Jewish Social Studies

Reform Judaism Magazine

Middle East Journal

Israel Studies

Israel Affairs

The Jerusalem Post



  • "This work is a fascinating socio-cultural analysis of the generation of Zionist pioneers born in the Jewish settlement -the yishuv - of what is now Israel, from the 1920s until the mid-to-late 1950s. Based on painstaking research of books, magazines, newspapers, diaries, and personal letters, among other sources, Almog describes and critically analyzes the ideal-typical image of what the new -or new-old, as Zionist pioneers envisioned it - generation of native-born Zionists were expected to be. Despite the translator's insistence that Almog uses the term "myth" to connote a theme which is regarded as representing a significant aspect of a culture and that a myth may be true or not, Almog opened himself up, through his efforts at professional objectivity, to attack from critics. This is compounded by the fact that both the Hebrew and English versions of his book appeared when the debate over "Post-Zionism was at its height, especially in Israel. In time, due in large measure to its presentation in literature and the mass media, the image of the Sabra came to be seen as representative of all second generation Israelis. This, despite the fact that it actually represented a small percentage of Israelis, even of that generation. In a sense, the image of the Sabra as the typical Israeli was somewhat akin to the image of the kibbutz as the typical Israeli form of communal organization, even as only a small percentage of Israelis actually lived in a kibbutz. In a more fundamental sense, and the one which Almog successfully conveys, the second generation yishuv, especially in the kibbutzim and moshavim, was comprised of a unique and significant subculture, a group which had its own norms, values, worldview, and lifestyle. Indeed, as he shows, much of the myth of the Sabra was rooted in reality. The Sabra whetted my appetite; now I look I forward to the main dish. Having read the original Hebrew edition as well, I also offer kudos ("tzalash"') to Haim Watzman for his excellent translation.” [Chaim Waxman, Israel Studies]

  • "First published in Hebrew in 1997, this book is a sociohistorical portrait of the Israeli elite at its origins. It does not deal with the chronology of historical events and does not focus on organizations, institutions, and ideologies. Rather, it seeks to present a sociological overview in an effort to grasp the spirit of the time in which Zionist idealism was at its peak. Meticulously researched, this could well become the standard work on the subject." [George Cohen, Social Sciences Booklist]

  • “This award-winning volume, ably translated from the Hebrew original, provides an eye opening portrayal and analysis of Israel's Sabra generation, the small homogeneous group of native-born Israelis (193060) who "carried the standard of labor Zionism and became the reference group by which the rest of Israeli society, in the country's early years, measured itself. Almog, an Israeli professor of sociology, views Sabra culture as a form of secular nationalist religion. He traces the central values, worldviews, rituals, and practices of the Labor Zionist faith that the Sabras embodied, places them in historical perspective, and underscores the complexity of dominant Sabra culture, 'swinging between the needs of the collective and the needs of the individual, between Jewishness and anti-Jewishness, between utopianism and pragmatism, between innovation and institutionalization, and between war and peace." He also describes the collapse of this culture following the Yom Kippur War. The most complete and perceptive study of the Sabra ever undertaken and a landmark in the nascent field of Israeli studies, this volume is must reading for anyone interested in the shaping of modem Israel. For all libraries.” [J. D. Sarna, Choice (Current Reviews for Academic Libraries)].

  • “Israelis are facing a challenge as severe and as dangerous as any since the founding of the state. Whether they will meet it successfully depends on many things, military preparedness being foremost among them. But high on the list of critical factors in any crisis is that nebulous and ill-defined quality, national character. In the case of Israelis, much has been written over the decades about that character, for good and for ill-which makes this book by the Israeli sociologist Oz Almog all the more welcome. For it is a look back at a generation of Israelis -the first generation- who were themselves called to meet the test of history. Almog's subject is the Sabras, a subset of Israel's founding cohort whose members were born and bred in Palestine. […]  Sabra, drawn from the Hebrew word for the pear cactus and suggesting a prickly exterior hiding a soft interior, this is a generation whose outstanding qualities have long been the stuff of one of Israel's major myths. And yet, though Israel's post-Zionist historians and intellectuals have been busy for some time now deconstructing, demystifying, and demythologizing modem Jewish history, not all myths, as Almog shows, are falsehoods. Drawing on rich and varied source material - poems, diary entries, letters, and newsletters of youth movements and army units – he presents a sympathetic group portrait of these "classic Sabras" who in addition to helping found the Jewish state developed an array of symbols, styles, and practices that became the seedbed of the Israeli identity. The deeper impression one takes away from Alrnog's book is not of a generation corrupted by conformism but of a generation whose commitment to the Jewish people was-on the whole-deeply felt and utterly sincere. If, as Almog writes, the Sabra "devoted himself to the nation just as a believer devotes himself to his religion," he clearly failed to instill a similar devotion in at least some of his children. This alone, however, would suggest the need for a more nuanced rendering of the Sabra mentality than the standard revisionist caricature. Such a rendering Almog offers in his thoughtful and revealing book, which vividly puts before us a generation that, whatever else may be said about it, did stunningly meet the test of history." [Dov Waxman, Commentary]

  •  “All revolutions share at least one trait: small and homogenous groups of very committed 'true believers' play disproportionately influential roles in effecting them. In the case of the Zionist revolution, which culminated in the creation of the State of Israel, the 'Palmach generation' constituted one such group. In these days of intellectual cynicism, however, it has become fashionable, both inside and outside Israel, particularly among anti- and post-Zionist thinkers, to claim that the Palmach (or sabra) generation is simply a 'mythical construct' of Zionist propaganda. Some of these thinkers deny the very existence of the Palmach generation, while others contend that the reality of this group was quite different from the myth that grew up around it. Fortunately, then, Israeli sociologist Oz Almog has devoted himself to the study of the Palmach generation, confirming in this elegantly written (and expertly translated) volume that not only did this group indeed exist, but also that reality was largely, though not completely, consistent with myth. By mining and evaluating a vast reservoir of primary and secondary sources, Almog has painted a rich and fascinating portrait of this defining generation. […] Furthermore, he assesses the various mechanisms that served to transmit the whole spectrum of attitudes that would become indelibly imprinted on the Palmach generation's collective personality. The education system, dominated by the ideology of Labour Zionism, consciously instilled in this generation an intense sense of commitment to the cause of national rebirth. Finally, Almog carefully and convincingly demonstrates that this group is not simply a Zionist fantasy, even though its image has been glorified to a certain extent in both elite and popular Israeli culture. The members of the Palmach generation may not have been quite the shining white knights that many Israelis and Diaspora Jews would like to believe, but they did turn out to be essentially altruistic, dedicated and decent people who not only contributed greatly to the survival of the Jewish community in Palestine, but also made their own sense of personal identity synonymous with the State of Israel's national identity (at list until the early 1960's) through their deeds. Those anti and post Zionist who seem intent on either eradicating or disparaging the image of the heroic Zionist 'man of action' would do well to read closely Almog's fine volume. It stands as a powerful corrective to the tainted scholarship of those intellectuals whose agenda is to undermine Zionist ideology in favor of a blurry and sterile 'multiculturalism'.” [David Rodman, Israel Affairs]


  • "This penetrating study of Sabra culture illuminates many aspects of Israeli education and society. […] this book documents an important legacy that continues to dominate much of Israeli life." [Fetterman, V. Bonny, Reform Judaism Magazine]

  • “One of this book's many fascinating nuggets of information is that the sabra plant itself is a fairly recent immigrant, having been imported to this region from Central America 200 years ago. Almog aims to be more precise. 'This book's definition of the Sabra is not biological, but cultural' he writes. […] What makes this well-written (and translated) work worthwhile for the general reader is its wide-ranging and systematic approach to the subject, and Almog's willingness to draw interesting conclusions that run counter to some of accepted wisdom about the Sabra archetype. As part of the general "post-Zionist" trend that one can argue began as far back as the Yom Kippur war, the heroic image of the Sabra has precipitously declined in recent years. Almog quotes the poet Yehudit Kafri writing in 1986: 'What is the myth of a Sabra?. A gaunt reality inflated with so much air that it became a swollen balloon destined to burst; a naked truth dressed up in so many fine garments that falsehood reigns". But the author, despite his willingness to look at some aspects of Sabra culture with an unflinching eye, will have none of that. Unlike some of the 'hew historians" writing about the same period, Almog isn't out to shatter the Sabra myth.” [Ben David Calev, The Jerusalem Post]


  • “Oz Almog writes in the dry, pursed style of most sociologists, but his book is richly rewarding. […] Almog's book will be an indispensable reference work for all future histories of Israeli society.” [Goldberg David, The Jewish Chronicle]


  • “In this detailed study, Almog seeks to explain the influence that the Sabras had not only on the Israeli armed forces, but on Israeli society as a whole. The Sabra, as translated by Haim Watzman, is readable, informative, and scholarly. It is a valuable resource both for readers who are unfamiliar with Israeli society and for specialists who will appreciate the nuances presented by the author. Furthermore, this study is based on research so extensive that, while there may be some scholars who disagree with specific details, all will agree that the thesis is strongly argued and well supported. Professor Almog has produced an important work, illuminating the centrality of the Sabras in Israeli life and the reaction against their ideals by the generation that followed them." [Sara Reguer, Middle East Journal]


  • “The Sabra is a well-written, well researched study of one of the central concepts of modern Israel. […]  Although the author voices some criticism of this generation, particularly in their attitudes toward the Arabs, his overall depiction is one of admiration for a group that believed that it had an important mission in life." [Elka Frankel R., Multicultural Review]


  • “By analyzing the writings that they produced, Almog attempts to create a sociological profile of the Sabra archetype, and in his quest he leaves no stone unturned: Almog's is the most comprehensive study of the Sabra culture. […]  Almog's study is so detailed that the reader becomes familiar with even the most trivial aspects of Sabra life, including their nicknames and their proclivity towards mischief and practical jokes." [Shofar]


  • "With this book, Oz Almog, a young Israeli professor of sociology, displays a rare gift for making the scholarly readable, offering insights of value in understanding contemporary Israel. The translation by Haim Watzman is beyond praise. This book covers a period that ends around the 1960, leaving the reader hoping for a sequel, sad though it - would be to follow the path from Zionist Utopia to present day reality." [Theo Richmond, The Sunday Times]

  • "Almog topples the Sabra from its plinth and then picks it apart with clinical precision and forensic skill. By the end of the book only fragments remain." [Bernard Wasserstein, Times Literary Supplement]


  • "Oz Almog's Ha-tsabar Dyokan is a sweeping, vivid, troubling sociological study that portrays the cultural construction of an elite group. […] Since the sabra is arguably the central and most significant cultural artifact that Zionism produced in Palestine, Almog's decision to focus on the sabra and examine it directly -- rather than as mere background for discussing topics such as Israeli culture, the Diaspora, Palestinians, Mizrahim, or post- Zionism -- is truly exciting." [Yael Ben-zvi, Jewish Social Studies]


  • “The Sabra is a comprehensive and fascinating attempt to draw a sociological and cultural picture of the most impressive and influential generation of Israelis […] In reading the book now for the second time, I was even more impressed with the integrative and analytic power of this scholarly yet highly interesting work. This work, however, is far from being solely an empirical, descriptive book. Its theoretical understanding, sophistication and linkage to other works of sociology is truly remarkable. It is critical and post-modern in its orientation, but, at the same time, draws and reinforces some of the classical sociological theories - in particular Bellah on civil religion and Mannheim on the concept of generation. Oz's writing is fascinating both in its materials and its conclusions. His arguments are forceful, yet very well grounded in empirical and theoretical works. His knowledge of the topics he studies is superior. To my opinion - using Oz's concept of generation - Oz Almog is the best sociologist of the younger generation of sociologists in Israel. While the founders' generation, led by S.N. Eisenstadt, made extremely important contributions for the understanding of the new Israeli society, their books were far from readable for a wider public. In comparison, Oz is clear and interesting all along.” [Amia Lieblich, author of Conversations with Dvora]


  • “This is an exhaustive study of a small exclusive elite group -- no less than 7,000 and no more than 30,000 strong -- which served as a role model for Israeli generations to come. At the same time, it is a study of the Zionism which the Sabra helped to evolve in Israel, as a civil, national religion and way of life. […] As Jewish religion embraces all aspects of life, and especially the moral and the spiritual, so does Zionism. Oz sets out to prove this in seven well organized chapters. SABRA encompasses the entire spectrum of its subject and is based on a search unique in its breadth and depth. In its pursuit of Sabra culture, it excels in the gathering and analysis not only of published documents, literature, and Hebrew text books, but equally of a great variety of expressions of everyday life, in general as well as in the military. There is a solid impression that Almog has seen, checked and rechecked all relevant material, especially hitherto scattered and uncollected diaries, letters, bulletins, pamphlets, ditties, nursery songs, fleeting slogans and snippets of folklore. In this respect, it is an unprecedented tour de force in its field.” [Shabtai Teveth, author of Ben-Gurion's Spy]


  • "The Sabra is singularly important given the centrality of the Sabra in Israeli life both symbolically-as a guiding myth or 'key scenario' for young Israelis-and in terms of the leadership positions that the first Sabras occupied until recently in the political and military affairs of Israel." [Yoram Bilu, author of Grasping Land]

  • "This colossal book serves as an encyclopedia of all the definitions, ironies and clichés that were attached to the image of the native-born Israeli during the period between 1930 and 1960. The comprehensive scope of the book is impressive and even somewhat awe-inspiring." [Yoram Bronovski, Ha'aretz]

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