Enough!- Another Israeli-American Says No to Zionism

“Eem Tirtzo Ein Zo Agendath?”: Ulysses’ Bloom and the Zionist Fable

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Alright, so I realize not everyone has read Ulysses (though I think you really should), but I’m pretty proud of the way this paper turned out. A little background about the plot: Ulysses depicts the events of one day (June 16th 1904) in the lives of its two heroes, Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom. Stephen is the young, disillusioned artist type who has major father-drama and Leopold is a non-practicing Irish Jew who has not had sex with his wife in 11 years since the sudden death of their son Rudy.

Early in his day, Leopold buys a piece of pork at the butcher and comes across an advertisement for “Agendath Netaim”- calling on European Jews like himself to become part of the cultivation of Palestine (though we all know that Palestine was at this point, and for thousands of years prior to 1904 already being cultivated by Palestinians).

Leopold keeps this advertisement in his pocket and reflects on it several times throughout the day before setting it on fire before going to sleep, indicating his lack of intention of ever embarking on such an endeavor.

“Eem Tirtzo, Ein Zo Agendath”?: Ulysses’ Bloom and the Zionist Fable

Largely regarded as the “Father of Zionism”, Theodor Herzl’s rallying cry for the establishment of a Jewish state was “Eem tirzo, ein zo agadah” (If you want it, it isn’t a legend/fable). Zionism had begun gaining momentum in Europe during the end of the 19th century and early 20th century, resulting in the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948. It seems natural then that echoes of this movement should reach Leopold Bloom, an Irish Jew, beginning with his discovery of the “Agendath Netaim” advertisement and culminating in the burning of the ad in the ‘Ithaca’ chapter.  Leopold, searching for a home and grappling with the concept of nationhood, seems overall dismissive of this cause, yet is also attracted by the movement. The disjointedness of the “Agendath Netaim” advertisement reveals Zionism’s contradictions and equates it with the Celtic Revivalist movement which Joyce saw as inadequate in resolving Ireland’s complex problems of identity. The use of the word Agendath (not a real word in the Hebrew language) and its resemblance of other Hebrew words, illustrate both the implications of the slippage of language and the futility of the Zionist cause, which essentially flips the anti-Semitic binary- suggesting that the legend Herzl envisioned as being destroyed was in fact just that, a legend.

Jewish agricultural settlements first appeared in Palestine in the 1880s. This wave of Eastern European immigrants were known as the “First Aliya” and were credited with the establishment of twelve agricultural colonies between the years 1882-1903 (Aaronsohn 142). In order to facilitate these new colonies, more than a hundred organizations known as “Hovevei Zion” (Lovers of Zion) were established throughout Europe to attract private investment in Palestine through the purchasing of lands (Aarohnson 143). “Their plans were designed to appeal to Jews of modest means- professionals, teachers, small businessmen, and others whose incomes allowed them to put money aside for retirement or investments” (Bell 254), making someone like Leopold Bloom the ideal target for advertisements by these organizations.

Bloom comes in contact with such an advertisement for purchasing land in the “model farm at Kinnereth on the lakeshores of Tiberias” (U 59) while buying a piece of (Non-Kosher) meat:

Agendath Netaim: To purchase vast sandy tracts from Turkish government and plant with eucalyptus trees. Excellent for shade, fuel and construction. Orangegroves and immense melonfields north of Jaffa…”     (U 60).

Records reveal that an “Agudath Netaim” (“Planter’s Company) really did exist, and was organized in Constantinople in 1905, though its connections to Kinnereth remain unknown (Bell 251). The address provided, Bleibtreustrasse 34, Berlin, W. 15, is also problematic in that the building did not exist until 1908, and was then occupied by Palastina Industrie Syndikat m.b.H (“Palestine Industries Syndicate, Ltd.) in 1910 (Parish 237), well after June 1904 when Bloom is supposed to have seen this advertisement. These errors in the timeline of events seem to allude to other errors both in the advertisement as well as rifts within the supported ideology, which would take years to execute, preventing many of its investors from ever being able to reap the fruits of their investments.

Next there are the contradictions within the advertisement itself.  The idea of purchasing “sandy tracts from Turkish government and plant with eucalyptus trees… excellent for shade, fuel and construction” is simply nonsensical when considering the features of eucalyptus trees and the area in question, which was “so lush, so marshy, that malaria was endemic. The area needed draining, not, as the ad might lead you to speculate, irrigation” (Byrnes 836). Growing eucalyptus trees in the sand, as the ad suggests, would also prove an interesting challenge. In addition, the trees would not have fetched much as firewood, and its planters would probably never live to collect on their investment in lumber (Byrnes 836).Thus this ad can be viewed as a satirical example, playing up certain Orientalist stereotypes of the Palestinian landscape that existed in the minds of urban Europeans during this time, reinforced by Hovevi Zion in order to attract investors. These myths included images of sandy landscapes, exotic vegetation that was exclusive to the area, and the spirit of rediscovering this new/old land. Most of the Jews who immigrated to Palestine were from large European cities and had little to no experience with agricultural work and would find the “exotic” landscapes depicted in these kinds of ads appealing.

Bell’s discovery of the advertisement most likely used as Joyce’s reference point (published in the April 2 1909 edition of Die Welt, the World Zionist weekly newsletter), further contradicts the exotic description of the article by presenting a picture of a farm that could well have been in Ireland, with plush meadows, hills and a European-style farmhouse, illustrating the discrepancies between the written word advertised and the actual landscape. Had Bloom ever decided to immigrate to Palestine (something he would never do), he would have been sorely disappointed to find that while “sandy tracts” do exist, much of Palestine’s agricultural landscape is similar to its Irish counterpart.

Leopold himself is tempted by this ad and says “nothing doing. Still an idea behind it” (U 60), revealing his mixed feelings regarding the Zionist movement. Apprehensive as he may be, Bloom cannot deny the many instances in which the prospect of the colonization of Palestine infiltrates his thoughts; He has visions of himself as a planter “with Harris tweed cap…and useful garden boots…planting aligned young firtrees…ameliorating the soil, multiplying wisdom, achieving longevity” (U 714-5) and thinks of “the wafty sycamore, the Lebanonian cedar, the exalted planetree, the eugenic eucalyptus and other ornaments of the arboreal world with which that region [Palestine] is thoroughly well supplied” (U 294). Bloom sings the first two lines of “Hatikvah” (“The Hope”, written by Naphtali Herz Imber), a popular Zionist song at the time calling for the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine, which has since become the national anthem of Israel. Leopold sings the first two lines only moments before rolling up the Agendath advertisement and burning it, ironically suggesting that the Jewish “hope” for a homeland is likely to “go up in flames.”

His remarks on the Dead Sea in the ‘Calypso’ chapter can initially be seen as anti Zionist in their scathing dismissal of the fertility of the land, but in fact they factor quite nicely into a myth which was propagated by Hovevi Zion– that Palestine was unpopulated, “a barren land, bare waste” (U 61). Realities on the ground were quite different, the land being occupied by “about 600,000 Muslims and Christians whose presence would compromise the Jewish separatism Zionists hoped to establish” (quoted in Byrnes 834), something Zionist organizations preferred not to advertise. Later in ‘Circe’ when Bloom becomes the mayor of “Bloomusalem”, an acknowledgment is made to the fact that the Jews’ occupation of Palestine would necessitate a certain amount of destruction of the existing infrastructure (of the Palestinians). In his vision “several buildings and monuments are demolished. Government offices are temporarily transferred to railway sheds. Numerous houses are razed to the ground. The inhabitants are lodged in barrels and boxes…”(U 484-485). Thus Bloom calling the Dead Sea “the grey sunken cunt of the world” (U 61), reflects his complex attitudes towards the Zionist project, both rejecting it with his acknowledgment of the inhabitants and life that already existed in Palestine, yet subconsciously embracing some of its popular advertizing techniques.

As Byrnes notes, the Agendath Netaim advertisement should be read as a parody of similar colonization advertisements for a number of reasons, namely that the word Agendath does not exist in the Hebrew language. Though this error could simply be due to a mistranslation, the context, and the illogical contradictory content of the advertisement implies that this was done intentionally to convey certain rifts within the Zionist ideology. Logic would suggest that the intended word to use in this instance is “Agudath”, meaning guild or company, thus producing “Agudath Netaim” (Planter’s Company). But Agendath, as presented by Joyce is also reminiscent of “Agadath” (Legend of), “Hagadath” (the Hagada read during the Passover Sader), and to some extent, Uganda, which at one time was considered a potential spot on which to establish a Jewish state. The similarity in the written forms of these words is demonstrated bellow:

Hebrew English Translation + Netaim
Agendath אגנדת None Agendath Netaim (No Meaning)
Agudath אגודת Company of Agudat Netaim (Planter’s Company)
Agadath אגדת Legend of Agadat Netaim 

(Planter’s Legend)

Hagadath הגדת Hagada (Passover Story) of Hagadat Netain 

(Planter’s Hagada)

Ugandath אוגנדת Uganda of Ugandat Netain 

(Planter’s Uganda)

Hagadath Netaim equates the establishment of the Jewish state with the biblical exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. Both fleeing persecution, these groups were guided by leaders who did not live to reach their final destination; thus drawing the connection between Moses and Herzl (who died in July 1904). Within the context of Ulysses, it seems as if the resemblance of Agendath to Hagadath implies that the advertisements of Hovevei Zion are in a way a retelling of a story that has already happened, and is thus likely to happen again. If the Israelites were able to make it back to Palestine only to be scattered, who’s to say that Jews migrating to Palestine in the early 20th century won’t be removed from it again? Bloom, who we know is aware of the Hagada (revealed in his rattling off of various Hebrew words in the ‘Circe’ episode (U 487)), thus sees Zionist advertisements as further retelling of the Jews persecution, while failing to offer a meaningful long-term solution to their difficulties. Zionism instead offers isolation as an antidote to anti-Semitism, which in essence agrees with the stereotype that Jews are inherently different and are incapable of living with non-Jews.

Ugandath Netaim is an interesting option to consider because it draws on the arbitrariness of location. As Oke notes, Herzl was offered and seriously considered Uganda as the destination for a new Jewish State by the British who foresaw political conflicts arising if the state were to be located in the midst of the Arab world in Palestine (335). These problems are inevitable when an ideoscape (an extension of Anderson’s idea of Imagined Communities), which is a concentration of political images “oriented to capturing state power of a piece of it” (Appadurai 36), is attempted to be transplanted onto a physical landscape. Because the Jewish population was so dispersed, Zionism needed to rely on printed information (advertisements, pamphlets, journals etc) to create a sense of community in the minds of its readers. These were of course subject to the same amount of errors that occurred in the printing of any information (Leopold being represented in the funeral notice as “L. Boom” for instance), but also to errors that occur while attempting to translate Hebrew or Yiddish and the loss of context that can occur when those printing the information are unfamiliar with the larger framework. The difficulty for Leopold, as a professional advertiser, comes from a sense that the grand images he is fed of Zionism through advertisements will not line up with the harsh realities of planting, building, and genuine antagonism and danger Jewish settlers are bound to face, similar to the way in which his house is “incomplete” despite the Blooms’ having purchased “Plumtree’s Potted Meat”, drawing attention to Leopold’s consciousness of the empty promises of the advertising business. Ugandandath conveys the sense that regardless of the location in which the Jewish state was to be established, it would necessitate the usurpation of others and would create new tensions as opposed to healing those of the past. It also suggests that the Zionist colonization effort was just as much a capitalist/political venture as it was a religious one, in that it was open to considerations of a number of territories, not Palestine exclusively, and that just like any other business, it too relied on the often capricious nature of advertizing.

These examples lead to the overall sense that what Joyce may have been trying to allude to in his fabrication of Agendath, is the sense that the Zionist movement as a whole was an insufficient answer to the difficulties of Jewish existence in Europe, that it was really an Agadath Netaim (Planter’s Fable). Indeed, its leaders often fell into the same language of some of the worst anti-Semites while attempting to rally support for their cause. Aaron David Gordon, for instance, claimed “in exile, we do not and cannot have a living culture, rooted in real life and developing within itself. We have no culture because we have no life, because the life that exists in exile is not our life” (qtd. in Sterhell). Upon consideration of both Stephen and Joyce’s self-inflicted “exiles” however, we come to realize that these are not always negative nor completely involuntary, that often exiles are the means by which individuals are able to best fulfill their potential and construct their identities.

When Leopold is asked to define a nation in the ‘Cyclops’ chapter, he replies unsurely that “a nation is the same people living in the same place… or also living in different places.” (U 331). These two definitions encompass both the Zionist aspirations of nationhood as well as the diasporic status of the Jews in Europe- united by being “the same people” without necessarily living in the same place. Bloom is then asked by the Citizen what nationality he belongs to, to which Bloom replies assertively “Ireland…I was born here. Ireland”, further complicating the notion of “the same people” and “the same place.”

Leopold sees himself as ethnically Jewish but does not follow the religious practices of Judaism nor does he feel that his “Jewishness” necessitates his support of Zionism, subverting perhaps the most widespread legend associated with Zionism: that all Jews (members of the religion) supported and believed in it (a political movement). Leopold, like many other Jews, saw Zionism as incapable of solving issues of anti-Semitism and thus sees himself as belonging to the Irish Nationality. “The same people” in Bloom’s terms, are those who wish to define themselves as the same (Irish), while the citizen and others are unable to separate the Jewish religion from the Zionist nationalist movement, and thus do not and will not view Bloom as an equal, “same” person.

Though Joyce believed strongly in the need for Irish independence, he saw it as necessary not because the Irish were different or any better than the British. Similarly, Leopold rejects Zionism as a cure for the plight of the Jews in Europe because it suggests that since Leopold is ethnically Jewish, he can and should no longer view himself as Irish, but rather as part of the political movement many members of his religion have adopted. Even though he is faced with anti-Semitism and discrimination, Leopold still strongly believes that he is Irish, “where I was born”, and thus suggests that identity is not one that can be prescribed by place of birth, religion or ethnicity but rather by the combination of all such factors, and the freedom of choice a multifaceted identity can grant. Bloom incinerates the Agendath Netaim advertisement not only because he does not see himself as a Zionist, but also because he rejects the constructs that suggest he should be one. By ridding himself of a misprinted, illogical ad, Bloom asserts and embraces his complex identity which cannot be accurately described in this or any other advertisement. Bloom rejects the need to “advertize” his identity by embracing one facet of himself, and sees those who do so as living the real “Agadah.”

Works Cited

Aaronsohn, Ran. “Baron Rothschild and the Initial Stage of Jewish Settlement in Palestine (1882-1890): A Different Type of Colonization?” Journal of Historical Geography 19.2 (1993): 142-156.

Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origins and Spread of Nationalism. New York: Verso, 1983.

Appadurai, Arjun. “Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy.” Modernity at

Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization. Ed. A. Appadurai. Minnesota: the University of Minnesota Press, 1996. 27- 47.

Bell, David M. “The Search for Agendath Netaim: Some Progress, but No Solution.” James Joyce Quarterly 12.3 (1975): 251-257.

Byrnes, Robert. “Agendath Netaim Discovered: Why Bloom Isn’t a Zionist.” James Joyce Quarterly 29.4 (1992): 833-837.

Joyce, James. Ulysses. First Vintage International ed. New York: Vintage Books, 1990.

Oke, Mim K. “The Ottoman Empire, Zionism, and the Question of Palestine (1880-1908).”

International Journal of Middle East Studies 14.3 (1982): 329-341.

Parish, Charles. “Agenbite of Agendath Netaim.” James Joyce Quarterly 6.3 (1969): 237- 241.

Said, Edward W. Orientalism Vintage Books ed. New York: Vintage Books, 1979.

Sternhell, Zeev. The Founding Myths of Israel: Nationalism, Socialism and the Making of the

Jewish State. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton UP, 1998.


Written by Keren Carmeli

October 11, 2010 at 4:41 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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