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    From Gathering Zionism to Inspiring Zionism and Towards a New Partnership

    0 תגובות   יום שישי , 30/5/14, 20:33

    אני ואתה נשנה את העולם, 
    אני ואתה אז יבואו כבר כולם, 
    אמרו את זה קודם לפני, 
    לא משנה - אני ואתה נשנה את העולם.

     

    אריק איינשטיין (1939-2013)

     

     

     

    “I once called Zionism an indefinite ideal, and I believe that even after attaining our country, the Land of Israel, it will not stop being an ideal; because Zionism, as I see it includes not only in our aspiration for that Promised Land as a commandment for our unfortunate people, but also the aspiration for moral and spiritual perfection.”

    Theodor Herzl (1860-1904) Our Hope, March 1904, To the People and the World, Diary B

     

     

     

    From time immemorial, twin forces have marked the journey of the Jewish People. The great historian Simon Dubnow(1860- 1941) was the first to suggest a historiography of the Jewish People based upon the tension between the inward forces of integration and the outward forces of dissemination.  The concepts of Gathering Zionism and Inspiring Zionism that I suggest here follow a similar dichotomy.  To define this succinctly: The former is a centripetal form of Zionism focused on gathering the Jews from exile to the center – the land of Israel-- while the latter is centrifugal and aims to disperse the Jewish spirit out of “Zion” into the world.  Gathering Zionism has shaped my life, while my heart yearns for Inspiring Zionism.


     

    Gathering Zionism

     

     

    I was born in Alexandria, Egypt, and at the age of five, soon after the Sinai War of 1956, my family had to flee Egypt to find a home in Israel.  Only later did I hear that we were in the car when the mob asked the driver to give them the “Yahuds,” but he kept on driving.

     

    In Kiryat Gat, where we arrived straight from the ship, there were many new immigrants from all over the post-war Jewish world.  Many of my friends’ parents were Holocaust survivors and I can still hear their conversations in Polish or Yiddish.  Others came from places like Morocco, Persia and Yemen.  Kiryat Gat, established two years earlier as an absorption town between Tel Aviv and Be'er Sheva, was indeed a microcosm of the “Ingathering of the Exiles,” – a haven for the Jews to find shelter.  Israel gave me and many young people a happy childhood filled with love, dedication and opportunity, and we were more than proud to serve in the Israeli army.  My father worked all his life in a bank and my mother took pride in her humble position within the school system. My sister and I had the opportunity for higher education and even achieve Ph.Ds.  Many of my classmates became successful in a variety of fields, and one of my best friends became a leading intellectual in Israel, while his Moroccan born parents, remained illiterate.  Many of my childhood friends from became physicians, lawyers, army generals and the like, while some of my dearest friends never lived to be twenty.  Soon after the Yom Kippur War, my military service ended and I joined my family in Jerusalem.  Nothing made my parents prouder than being a “Yerushalmi.”  They lived the rest of their lives in Jerusalem, where they are buried side by side.

     

    As an academic focused mainly on the philosophy of Martin Buber (1878-1965), one of the greatest Jewish-German philosophers of the twentieth century, I found myself in the United States where I founded and directed the Judaic Studies program at Virginia Tech and thirteen years ago I moved to teach in San Diego.

     

    Soon after I arrived in the US I had the opportunity of meeting Elie Wiesel, the noted writer and Nobel Laureate.  Not without Israeli Hutzpah, I asked him if a person could be fully Jewish outside of Israel.  He thought for a moment and then, to my surprise not only in perfect Hebrew but also without any accent, told me:  “I do not want to undermine the importance of Israel, but you can absolutely fulfill your Judaism in any place in the world.”  For many years since I have wrestled with this answer.  Only much later did I realize that I had asked him the wrong question.  I should have asked about the ways a Jew can fulfill his or her love and duty towards Zion, his or her Zionism outside of Israel.  On second thought, I realized that I had found the answer, since Zion became more to me than a Promised Land – it is an eternal idea at the heart of what we are as Jews.  Like a whole generation of young Jews and Israelis, I found inspiration and guidance in the words and thoughts of Martin Buber.  Indeed, for me Zionism is currently entering a higher dialogical stage that could be reached only after the first has been achieved – radiating spiritual Zionism, in short Inspiring Zionism

     

     

    Inspiring Zionism

     

     

    Buber wrote: ‘Zion – something greater than a piece of land in the Middle East: something greater than a Jewish State on this land.  Zion – means a memory, a demand, and a designation. Zion is the foundation stone, the solid basis for humanity’s Messianic edifice.  Zion is the eternal zeal in the People’s soul.’ (1919, my translation - DB) 

     

    Buber saw himself as a disciple of Ahad Ha'am (1856-1927), leader of Cultural Zionism, established during the early days of the Zionist movement, in opposition to the Political Zionism of Theodor Herzl (1860-1904). Buber’s opinion represented the camp that was in constant disagreement with “the architect of modern Israel” and its first Prime Minister David Ben Gurion (1886-1973).  In many ways, Buber and Ben Gurion continued the old debate started by their respective leaders.  In contrast to Buber’s broad definition of Zionism, Ben Gurion was convinced that the creation of the State of Israel was also the end of the Zionist movement as it were, since this movement had attained its goal. In other words, the Jewish State was the realization of the Zionist end: the establishment of a homeland for the Jewish people.  Thus it had run its course, and from that moment on, Israel was to take its place.  Obviously, the role and responsibility of Gathering Zionism is now in the hands of the sovereign people of Israel and their representative political leadership.  They can, for example, send airplanes to rescue Jews in danger anywhere in the world and bring them home to Israel -- as they did for the Jews of Yamane and Ethiopia.  This unique monumental responsibility and ability should be honored and cherished but never taken for granted.

     

     Buber and Ben Gurion met and corresponded about their opposing views, mutually and respectfully agreed to disagree. Since then many decades have passed and the question about the essence and the nature of Zionism is still at the heart of numerous intense debates inside and outside Israel.  Ironically, what is known today as post-Zionism started at the university bearing the name of Ben Gurion in Be’er Sheva.  Speaking of the rivalry between Ben Gurion and Buber, it is important to note that although Buber was as left as he could be on the Israeli political map, he was considered by Ben Gurion as a great Zionist.  It is important to remember this in light of the recent controversy around J-Street.  Indeed it is crucial that the market-place of ideas remain open and free.  It is not this or that view that should be protected but the principle that the Zionist platform should be open to all views and respectful of the entire

    spectrum of opinions.

     

    Personally, I recently found myself answering a new call: joining ARZA (Association of Reform Zionist of America) and representing the movement on the West Coast.  Moreover, it is in this capacity that I have had the privilege to reflect on the state of Israel in America from a fresh point of view, in the last two years I have visited dozens of houses of worship, and as an Israeli my eyes have been opened to the amazing Jewish experience.  Indeed, I am in awe of the beauty and spiritualty I have observed in so many services.  I do think that a “reverse birthright”, which will expose the Israelis, especially the youth, to the progressive movement in the US, will be effective and inspiring.  Furthermore, I have no doubt that the ,future of Israeli religiosity lies in some new/old form of adaptation of the American way – pluralistic, egalitarian, modern, and spiritual.

     

     

    In addition to the known facts that every Friday evening thousands and thousands of Jews of all denominations gather to celebrate the Sabbath, and that every Saturday morning countless young people celebrate their Bar/ Bat Mitzvahs, I would like to point out two important features at the core of the American Jewish experience.  First, in the last half-century more than fifteen-hundred academic departments of Jewish Studies were established all over America.  Not only symbolically, but from a practical and existential point of view, it is vital to understand that  every academic year thousands of Jewish and non-Jewish students at various universities study the history of the Jewish people,  Jewish culture and religion as well as the history and politics of  Israel. There are no self-respecting universities, including Christian universities that do not offer students the possibility to study Judaism.  But above and beyond these important characteristics, there is  one substantially more significant in quality and value – the common thread that goes virtually through all the communities in the US: a strong social consciousness, a genuine deep commitment to  "repairing the world" -- Tikkun Olam.

     

    Consequently, I want to suggest that Buber’s Zionism, which was never too popular in Israel--although I believe it was and still is in the hearts and aspirations of many Israelis-- landed on American shores.  And in many ways, it is this form of Zionism, which I coined Inspiring Zionism, that is being practiced increasingly in the US, and hopefully will inspire more in Israel as well.

     

    As in Talmudic times, I notice that we currently have two established flourishing centers of Judaism, and as no one can argue today that any of the early ones, be it in Jerusalem or Babylon, was less important than the other, so it is the same for the existing centers of Judaism in Israel and the US.  Here I would like to comment that I disagree with the argument put forward by Simon Rawidowicz (1896–1957), the scholar from Brandeis University, author of Jerusalem and Babylon that Israel is an “ever-dying People” and by that very fact it is being saved repeatedly, I rather hold that Israel is the “ever-living essence.”  To my mind, the half-century that has passed since Rawidowicz offered his view on Jewish existence has proven him partly wrong – the Jewish People do not need to be in danger of being exterminated in order to prevail.  On the other hand, time has only reaffirmed and validated his stand against the “negation of the Exile” and the importance he gave, as a Zionist, to the role of World Jewry outside Israel as a vital partner in the fulfillment of the Zionist idea.

     

    To complete the picture, I would like to comment that a third form of Zionism is now prevailing along with Gathering Zionism and Inspiring Zionism: I coin it Appropriating Zionism, others might call it Chauvinistic Zionism.  While we can trace the first back to political Zionism and the second to Cultural Zionism -- Appropriating Zionism, I argue, is a tragic distortion of Practical Zionism.  As we all know, Practical Zionism made a substantial contribution to the formation and identity of the State of Israel.  It was a socialist movement, epitomized by the Kibbutz and the Moshav, which, while being very “Jewish”, raised the banners of social Justice and humanistic values.  On the other hand, Appropriating Zionism of today is mostly religious, nationalistic, and reactionary.  The current adherents to this approach are as ever convicted of their “right way,” and continue steadily and consistently, self-assured and self-contented, towards the realization of their ideology.  Here they build housing and there they use legal —or other — channels to justify the means for the sake of the end.  Here they menace the non-Jewish population and there they cut down trees or burn others’ holy books all in the name of their Messianic goal: control over the entire Land of Israel with as many Jews and as few non-Jews within. All other narratives are but subtexts or metonyms.  This is, moreover, a form of proactive Messianism that does not accept the rabbinical prohibition to precipitate the coming.  A perfect representative of this approach can be found, unfortunately among many others, in the Israeli right wing, in the views and actions of the Minister of Housing in the Israeli cabinet Uri Ariel.  Openly and unapologetically, in his declarations and in his actions, he is devoted to one ultimate end – making all the land of greater Israel a “Jewish Home,” like the name of the party he belongs to.  Ironically, this party shares with the Islamic movement Hamas the one state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute -- only that one would like it to be Jewish and the other Arab.  Yet I remember with warm heart and admiration Rabbi Menachem Furman from the settlement Tekoa in the Gush Etzion region, who passed away a year ago after a long life of dedication to the promotion of religious tolerance and above all to peace between Israelis and  Palestinians. He set an example that even religious, nationalistic Zionism can be transformed and transforming and become a source for inspiration and enlightenment.  Which brings us back to Inspiring Zionism, by all means a work in progress for Israel and the Jewish World.

     

    The Baal Shem Tov(1698-1760),  founder of the Hassidic movement, emphasized that there were many ways to do God’s work and to worship God.  Likewise, it seems to me that there are many ways to realize Zion on earth.  Israel is recognized and loved as a Jewish State, not because “its mother is Jewish,” but because it is the place where the spirit of Judaism is coming to life and is being experienced every day in the lives of Jews all over this sacred land. This is true with regard to the center of Jewish life in America as well.  In his new book New American Zionism, Theodore Sasson makes the distinction between the early “mobilization” approach, focused on supporting the forming days of Israel to the current “engagement” approach marked by direct relations with the established and prosperous State of Israel as well as personal contact with Israelis and especially visits to Israel. I suggest that a new approach is dawning at the horizon of our global era – the “partnership” approach.  It is indeed a sign of maturity for both communities, in Israel and the United States, and a challenge they share to be at the service a grander cause, where the whole is far greater than the sum of its parts.  In the words of the prophet Isaiah  וּנְתַתִּיךָ לְאוֹר גּוֹיִם לִהְיוֹת יְשׁוּעָתִי עַד קְצֵה הָאָרֶץ and I shall submit you as a light unto the nations to bring my salvation to the end of the world.  Actually, it is in this sense of serving ZION, with capital letters, and the call to bring ‘light unto the nation,’ that I see Israel and American Jewry forging, in the midst of our exceedingly global world, a New Partnership, and acting in unison as soul mates, inspiring and complementing each other to make Zion a universal reality.  I can only imagine how proud and appreciative, encouraging, and encouraged, Buber and Ben Gurion would have been seeing this partnership formed, fortified, and realized.

     

    To sum up, to be a Zionist in America does not end with serving Israel, but the spirit and essence of Judaism --inspiring and being inspired by Israel: a two-way route from Israel, to Israel and beyond.  As King Salomon so wisely suggested: טוֹב אֲשֶׁר תֶּאֱחֹז בָּזֶה וְגַם-מִזֶּה אַל-תַּנַּח אֶת-יָדֶךָ It is good to take hold of the one without letting go of the other:  certainly and without doubt, American Jewry should continue helping and supporting the young state of Israel in all possible ways and be a partner with Israel in spreading the spirit of Zion here on earth, in Israel, to and from Israel יְבָרֶכְךָ יְהוָה, מִצִּיּוֹן: וּרְאֵה, בְּטוּב יְרוּשָׁלִָם   May God bless you out of Zion; and see the good of Jerusalem, And may we all live to see soon “the third rung.” Amen.

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