I shed the German name I was given at birth and adopted the Hebrew first and surname I had chosen.
It was more than a mere change of names. It was a declaration: a divorce from my past in the Diaspora ("exile" in Zionist parlance), from the tradition of my German-Jewish forebears, from everything that was "exilic." "Exilic" was the worst insult you could throw at anyone at the time.
It said: I am a Hebrew, a part of the great adventure of creating the new Hebrew nation, the new Hebrew culture, the future Hebrew state that was to come into being once we had driven the British colonial regime out of the country.
THIS WAS the normal thing to do. Almost all my friends and acquaintances did so the moment they legally could.
When the state was founded, it became official policy. You could not join the diplomatic service or obtain a senior commission in the army if you bore a foreign name.
And indeed, could one imagine an Israeli ambassador in Germany called Berliner? Or an Israeli ambassador in Poland called Polonsky? Or an Israeli Prime Minister called Grun (Ben-Gurion's former name)? A Chief of Staff of the army called Kitaigorodsky (the former name of Moshe Dayan?) Or an Israeli international soccer star called Ochs?
Ben-Gurion was a fanatic in this matter. It was, perhaps, the only matter on which we agreed.
THE CHANGING of names symbolized a basic ideological attitude. Zionism was based on a total negation of the Jewish Diaspora, its way of living, its traditions and expressions.
The Founding father of Zionism, Theodor Herzl, now officially designated here as "the Visionary of the State," envisioned the total disappearance of the Diaspora. In his diary he foresaw that after the founding of the "Jewstate" (wrongly translated as the "Jewish State"), all the Jews who wished to do so would settle in Israel. They (and only they!) would henceforth be called Jews. All the others would finally assimilate in their host nations and cease being Jews. (This part of Herzl's teachings is completely and deliberately obliterated in Israel. It is neither taught in the schools nor mentioned by politicians.)
In his diaries, which are of high literary value, Herzl did not hide his contempt for the Diaspora Jews. Some passages are positively anti-Semitic -- a term that was invented in Germany after Herzl's birth.
As a pupil in an elementary school in Palestine I was imbued with this contemptuous attitude. Everything "exilic" was beneath contempt: the Jewish shtetl, Jewish religion, Jewish prejudices and superstitions. We learned that "exilic" Jews were engaged in "air businesses" -- parasitical stock exchange deals that did not produce anything real, that Jews shunned physical work, that their social setup was a "reverse pyramid," which we were to overturn by creating a healthy society of peasants and workers.
In my company in the Irgun underground, and later in the Israeli army, there was not a single kippah-wearing fighter, though some wore peaked caps. Religious people were objects of pity.
The prevalent doctrine was that religion had indeed played a useful role throughout the centuries in holding Jews together and enabling the survival of the Jewish people, but that now Hebrew nationalism had taken over that role, making religion redundant. Religion, it was felt, would soon die out.
Everything good and healthy was Hebrew -- the Hebrew community, Hebrew agriculture, Hebrew kibbutzim, the "First Hebrew City" (Tel Aviv), the Hebrew underground military organizations, the future Hebrew state. Jewish were "exilic" things like religion, tradition and useless stuff like that.
Only when the full extent of the Holocaust became known, near the end of World War II, did this attitude turn into profound remorse. There was a feeling of guilt, of not having done enough for our persecuted relatives. The shtetl assumed the glow of infantile memories; people started to long for the warm Jewish home, the idyllic Jewish existence.
Even then, Ben-Gurion refused to accept the idea that Jews may live outside Israel. He refused to deal with Zionist leaders living abroad. Only when the new state was in dire economic straits and desperately needed Jewish money did he finally agree to go to the US and ask the Jewish leadership there to come to the aid of Israel.