Sixty-five years in, we can no longer be sustained merely by the fumes of our own existence, or by the fumes of those who threaten us — as powerful as those realities are. We must have a painful conversation not only about our borders with our neighbors, but about the identity of the home we build together — this is the Zionist calling of our times.
Rabbi Mishael Zion, “Israel at 65: Celebrating is Not Enough”, The Jewish Week (12 April 2013), 23.
In pre-Israeli Days, Zionism was a dynamic, world-wide movement whose goal was the creation of a Jewish national homeland in Palestine. In 1948, to the surprise of many leading Zionists and others, the goal was achieved. From then on, nobody could ever figure out what a Zionist was. Some say a Zionist is a Jew who tries to persuade a second Jew to give money to settle a third Jew in Israel. Zionism has become an ideal whose time has gone. Is a Zionist now someone who is friendly to Israel? Well, so are the non-Zionists – indeed, all Jews, not to mention WASP candidates for public office in America. Is a Zionist someone who contributes to Israel? Well, as Ben-Gurion puckishly used to remind the Zionists, the non-Zionists give more. So what is a Zionist? The Israelis (understandably worried that Israel is becoming an oriental or Levantine state) have a simple answer: if you claim to be a Zionist, you must come and live in Israel. The result is a thunderous silence. Aw, come on, say the Israelis, stop playing games, we need you. The silence now becomes eloquently ominous.
Albert Vorspan, My Rabbi Doesn’t Make House Calls: A Guide to Games Jews Play (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, 1969), 102.
The parallels with the challenges for modern Israel are striking, for Solomon, like modern Israel, was essentially confronting “non-state actors.” For Haddad the Edomite, an indigenous resident stripped of his territory, one might substitute Hamas or Islamic Jihad; for Rezon the Syrian, one might substitute Hizballah. As with modern Israel, neither threat to Solomon’s state was existential. Solomon was prepared to tolerate some level of violence in his more remote territories as long as he could preserve the peace in Judah and avoid entanglements with major foreign powers. That was not the case for those who ruled after him, whether in Judah or in Israel. Few of Solomon’s successors avoided major conflicts with other states. Modern Israel, likewise, cannot now and probably will not in the future be able to avoid conflict with states, whether with Iran or with some as yet unforeseen threat.
Dov S. Zakheim, “The Geopolitics of Scripture,” The American Interest (July/August 2012), 11.
Like the Kingdom of Judah, Judea and Samaria today are far more religiously and politically conservative than the rest of Israel; a major proportion of the settler movement, if not a majority, is dominated by nationalist-minded Orthodox Jews. This is increasingly the case in Jerusalem as well, where the ultra-Orthodox haredim form a plurality and constitute the most potent political force in the city. That portion of Israel inside the Green Line, particularly the urbanized stretch along the Mediterranean coast from Tel Aviv to Haifa often referred to as “North Tel Aviv”, reflects many of the characteristics of the ancient northern kingdom. Dominated by secular values, far more prosperous and diversified economically, it is the heartland of what has been termed recently “the start-up nation.” The coastal area and its elites have little sympathy for the settlers, the haredim and the political and religious values they espouse.
Dov S. Zakheim, “The Geopolitics of Scripture,” The American Interest (July/August 2012), .9
The basic problem with Jewish life today is its overwhelming emphasis on crisis. We fight. We “weigh in”. We identify enemies and proclaim loyalties. We hold high-level meetings to discuss our “brand”. We defend Israel as though our lives were at stake or criticize Israel with the passion of a democratic evangelist. We accost those Jews who fail to enlist in the cause, as though any minute we may need them to storm Washington, as we did in the decades when a million of our brethren were imprisoned behind Soviet lines.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with combating activism or fighting the Iranian bomb. There are dangers out there, both political forces and simple ignorance that put Jewish life at risk. Our crises are not manufactured. But just as an individual’s life cannot be defined solely through his struggle for survival, isn’t there something disturbing about a Jewish identity defined principally by the constant effort to put a halt to terrible things? Welcome to fire extinguisher Judaism.
What’s missing is a coherent content to our identity, a positive message, a set of beloved things and ideas – other than ourselves and our organizations and the state we’ve built – to which we proclaim allegiance, in which we invest time and effort to understand, which we embrace as possessing the keys to ourselves and our future.
David Hazony, “Welcome to Fire Extinguisher Judaism” Moment (May/June 2010), 20.
All Zionists agree also that an undivided Jerusalem must remain Israel’s capital. This is a matter of intense importance, not only to Israel and its supporters, but to humanity as a whole. During the nineteen years that Jordan occupied East Jerusalem, thirty-four of the thirty-five synagogues in the Jewish Quarter were contemptuously blasted into dusty rubble. Thirty-eight thousand Jewish graves on the Mount of Olives were wantonly destroyed; many tombstones were used to pave Jordanian army latrines. Even Christians residing in Israel weren’t not allowed to visit their shrines in the Old City.
Roland B. Gittelsohn, Partners in Destiny: Reform Judaism and Zionism (New York: Union of American Hebrew Congregations, 1984), 10.
To describe Zionism purely as a modern, socio-political phenomenon makes about as much sense as to explain my career entirely in terms of events since the day I was ordained a rabbi, as if my genetic heritage, my childhood and adolescence, my undergraduate studies and extracurricular activities had nothing to do with making me what I am today.
Of course there have been external tendencies and trends which have helped shape the nature of Zionism, among them Emancipation, Enlightenment, massive anti-Semitism, and the burgeoning of nationalism throughout the world during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. But these have been like the winds and rains which influence the ultimate growth of a tree. Without seeds and roots, wind and rain would produce only gullies, not living organisms. To understand Zionism in anything more than a superficial sense, we need to examine its indigenous origins in Jewish tradition.
Roland B. Gittelsohn, Partners in Destiny: Reform Judaism and Zionism (New York: Union of American Hebrew Congregations, 1984), 1.