Each war and revolution produces its lost generation. Israel's lost generation are the middle-aged, those who came here at a time of their life which still allows them to remember Europe. Not the fleshpots of Europe; for most of them lived in penury. Not the safety of Europe; for they were persecuted. They do not plan or even yearn to go back, for their bridges have been burnt - either by their own free will or by the torches of their persecutors. They know that for them, as for the whole nation, there is no turning back.
Nevertheless they are a lost generation. They finger lovingly their Israeli passports, but they cannot get accustomed to the climate. They are proud of living in Israel's capital, but its provincial atmosphere oppresses them. They hebraise their names, but Hebrew remains an acquired language to them. The children in school take to the Biblical language like ducks to the pond, but the parents speak it haltingly and read it with even greater difficulty; they feel left out.
There also exists a lost generation in a different sense of the word, though the two overlap to some extent. They are the people who have spent years - sometimes as many as ten - in concentration and displaced persons' camps, and who only survived by becoming conditioned to circumventing the law, for the law for the Jew on the continent of Europe was deportation and death. Few can survive such pressure without some deformation of character, and a large number of the immigrants of recent years are psychological problem-cases, some of them with a marked asocial tendency.
The second main source of immigration, present and future, are the Sephardic Jews from Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Yemen, and North Africa, whose economic and physical existence is becoming increasingly precarious. They are Orientals both in character and appearance, and their colour varies from olive to dark grey; their main language is Arabic.
Already some 25 to 30 per cent of Israel's population are Oriental Jews; and by virtue both of their higher birth-rate and of increasing pressure in the neighbouring countries they will, in all probability, outnumber the European element in the not-too-distant future. This fact makes the cultural problem of Israel appear in a new light which as yet few of the political and intellectual leaders of the country are prepared to face.
In their ensemble these form the lost generation of Israel, a transitory and amorphous mass which as yet lacks the character of a nation. Only in the native youth, born and reared in the country, does the first intimation of the future profile of Israel as a nation begin to outline itself. The Palestine-born young Jew is nicknamed "sabra" after the prickly wild-growing, somewhat tasteless fruit of the cactus plant. In physical appearance he is almost invariably taller than his parents, robustly built, mostly blond or brown haired, frequently snub-nosed and blue-eyed. The young male's most striking feature is that he looks entirely un-Jewish. The girls, on the other hand, seem as yet to remain physically closer to the European Jewish type.
On the whole, there can be little doubt that the race is undergoing some curious biological alteration, probably induced by the abrupt change in climate, diet, and the mineral balance of the soil. It also seems that the female is slower in undergoing this transformation, more inert or stable in constitutional type. The whole phenomenon is a striking confirmation of the theory that environment has a greater formative influence than heredity and that what we commonly regard as Jewish characteristics are not racial features but a product of sustained social pressure and a specific way of life, a psycho-somatic response to what Professor Toynbee calls "the stimulus of penalisations".
In his mental make-up the average young sabra is fearless to the point of recklessness, bold, extroverted, and little inclined towards, if not openly contemptuous of, intellectual pursuits. The children are particularly good-looking; after puberty, however, their features and voices coarsen and seem never quite to reach the balance of maturity. The typical sabra's face has something unfinished about it: the still undetermined character of a race in transition.
The sabra's outlook on the world is rather provincial and hyper-chauvinistic. This could hardly be otherwise in a small and exposed pioneer community which had to defend its physical existence and build its State against almost impossible odds. One cannot create a nation without nationalism.
This, of course, is a temporary phenomenon. In a decade or so, with Israel's position safely established in the Middle East, the cessation of outward pressure will no doubt produce a corresponding change in the mentality of the young generation. But a change in what direction? What kind of a civilisation will Israel's be? Will it be a continuation of Western thought and art and values? Or the superficial veneer of Levantinism? Or will it go back to its ancient roots and develop out of them a modern but specifically Hebrew culture?
For the time being the intellectual leaders of Israel are determined to choose the third alternative. No doubt this "cultural claustrophilia" is also merely a passing phase. It will vanish with increasing security and self-assurance. What kind of civilisation will take its place one cannot foretell, but one thing seems fairly certain: within a generation or two Israel will have become an entirely "un-Jewish" country.