Podcast: Gil Troy on His New Book with Natan Sharansky

The Israeli historian joins us to talk about his partnership with Sharansky, what he calls the Sovietization of American culture, and much more.

Natan Sharansky and Gil Troy with a copy of Never Alone, their new book. Larissa Ruthman.

Natan Sharansky and Gil Troy with a copy of Never Alone, their new book. Larissa Ruthman.

Sept. 4 2020
About the authors

A weekly podcast, produced in partnership with the Tikvah Fund, offering up the best thinking on Jewish thought and culture.

Gil Troy is distinguished scholar of North American history at McGill University in Montreal. He is the author of  nine books on the American presidency and three books on Zionism, including, most recently, The Zionist Ideas.

This Week’s Guest: Gil Troy


Prisoner of Zion, human-rights activist, member of the Knesset, chairman of the Jewish Agency, lecturer, author: in his 72 years on earth, Natan Sharansky has lived several lifetimes. And in his latest book, Never Alone: Prison, Politics, and My People, he’s partnered with the historian Gil Troy to reflect on the lessons he’s learned throughout a life that’s taken him from the Gulag to the halls of Israel’s parliament.

In this podcast, Gil Troy joins Mosaic editor Jonathan Silver for a conversation about his partnership with Sharansky, the Israel-Diaspora relationship, what he calls the Sovietization of American culture, and much more.

Musical selections in this podcast are drawn from the Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, op. 31a, composed by Paul Ben-Haim and performed by the ARC Ensemble.


Excerpt (30:20-33:07)


For years, Natan was talking about the tension between American Jewry and Israeli Jewry by saying “Look, these are two communities each with very different survival strategies. Americans Jews are a minority living in a democratic-majority culture. They have to figure out how to survive in that way, and so they tend to be liberal because that’s what they believe will lead to their being accepted, and that’s what they believe will be their continuing source of comfort,” especially because (and this is my addition), so many of them live in blue states, where most be people tend to be liberal and democratic and so they want to fit in. That’s the world most American Jews live in. 

And Natan says, “But if American Jews are a minority living in a democratic-majority culture, Israeli Jews are a democratic majority, and they’re surrounded by not just dictatorships, but dictatorships that wish to destroy them. So if the American Jew is really focusing ultimately on making sure that the ideals are working and alive, the Israeli Jew often just has to work on staying alive, and on sovereignty.”

And I for a while had been playing with the tension between Isaiah and David. They became nice labels for this phenomenon he’d been talking about, because when we talk about Isaiah―and we know that there are parts of Isaiah that have a lot of nationalism in them, that have a lot of blood and guts―but the parts of Isaiah that most American Jewish rabbis teach and preach, and that most American Jews know, are the parts of Isaiah about the lion lying down with the lamb, about the universal search for justice and peace, all of which are lovely ideals. So the American Jew tends to be instinctively―and again, most American Jews, or the 78 percent who voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016―tend to be Isaiahan, thinking of those big universal ideas. Most Israeli Jews―because at the end of the day no matter how left-wing you are, you often serve in the army and you’ve got to survive―are Davidian, because King David, at the end of the day, had to fight off Goliath, had to fight off the lions when they came for his lambs, and had to make sure that the kingdom functioned. 

So the state of Israel is filled with Davidian Jews, American Jewry is filled with Isaiahan Jews, and that’s where they disconnect. But―and here also both of us from different perspectives always emphasize this too―we also see that because Isaiah has its bloody nationalist parts, and King David was the harpist in the Psalmist, that when we read it in three dimensions we realize that, yeah there may be more of an emphasis on one survival strategy or another, but Isaiahans, also in order to survive, have to have a certain sense of solidarity of peoplehood. And Davidians, especially Davidian Jews, aren’t just going to live to beat up the next guy or gal; they’re going to live to dream and to be idealistic. We use that language to point out some of the differences, some of the divergences, but also some of the similarities, some of the convergences. 




For more on the Tikvah Podcast at Mosaic, which appears roughly every Thursday, check out its inaugural post here.

If you have thoughts about the podcast that you’d like to share, ideas for future guests and topics, or any other form of feedback, just send an email to [email protected].

More about: History & Ideas