How Concrete Made the Zionist Dream a Reality

April 27, 2020 | Liam Hoare
About the author: Liam Hoare is a freelance writer whose work on politics and literature has featured in The Atlantic, The Forward, and The Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of University College London’s School of Slavonic and East European Studies.

Reviewing two recent books on the history of Israeli architecture, Liam Hoare observes that if there is one common thread, stretching back to the days before statehood, in the way the Jewish state has been built, it is concrete:

It was the perfect building material for a state founded as a negation of history wishing to establish something new—cheaply, quickly, and efficiently. Early Israel not only needed new versions of everything—apartment buildings, courthouses, bus stations, concert halls, public squares—but it needed multiple versions of those things in order to establish the infrastructure of a functioning, modern state. Concrete was malleable—it could be poured to fill any mold, manufacture any shape. It could be domestically produced and prefabricated. Concrete could be used to create anything. Concrete would serve the plan.

Lest concrete seem too prosaic a material for the task of engineering the rebirth of the Jewish nation, or too urban for a movement so invested in agriculture, Hoare gives us the words of the great Hebrew poet Natan Alterman:

To Alterman, the transformation of the rural was not merely about planting trees and tilling fields. “From the slopes of Lebanon to the Dead Sea/ We shall crisscross you with ploughs/ We shall yet cultivate and build you/ We shall yet beautify you,” he wrote in his 1935 poem, “Shir Moledet.” “We shall dress you in a gown of concrete and cement/ And lay for you a carpet of gardens/ On the soils of your redeemed fields.”

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