By Noah Goldman
Right next to my bed lies a very special book that both inspires and challenges my passions on the Jewish State. That book is The Zionist Ideas: Visions for the New Jewish Homeland – Then, Now, Tomorrow by Gil Troy with a marvelous foreword written by the dynamic Natan Sharansky. Zionist Ideas is a two century long conversation on what Jewish sovereignty should be. I encourage every engaged Jewish Zionist to get a copy of this book and consider adding to this continuing conversation.
Zionism today faces many obstacles. As it so happens, the Jewish people are never without immense challenges. My grandfather grew up in perhaps one of the most, if not the most unfortunate generations of Jewish history. He grew up in Offenburg, Germany and in the year of his bar mitzvah was forced to flee with his family – in 1938. They made their way to the small country of Liechtenstein, essentially hiding under Hitler’s nose. He recalled to me the bombs he would hear with a great fear of the unknown, especially if there would even be a following day. Thankfully, he and his family survived the war. Tragically, those who stayed behind or fled to France perished. Today, I am part of what might be considered one of the most fortunate generations of Jewish history. There is a strong Jewish state that serves as a haven for a long-oppressed people. Anti-Jewish hatred was thought to have remained on the fringes of society, unwelcomed by the mainstream.
Every generation in Jewish history has faced challenges and this generation is no exception. Israel, imperfect as it may be, is targeted by delegitimization tactics by those who used to be on the fringes. Anti-Jewish hatred is on the rise and becoming more accepted within the mainstream of many societies. In addition to that, the Jewish community is very divided along a multitude of hard lines. These are the great challenges of our generation and we must devote great strength to solving these challenges. Perhaps the first move we should make is in addressing our challenges by working to improve our dialogue. Let us talk about and define our Zionism.
Since my youth, I have been a strong-minded Jewish Zionist. Holding these values has brought me into fascinating spaces. I have had the privilege of meeting with leaders in AIPAC, JStreet and Jewish Federations across the country. Zionism has brought me in conversation with Jews all across the political spectrum. It has brought me in contact with Christians who love Israel and Christians who are challenged by Israel. It has brought me into contact with Palestinians, other Arabs, and Muslims who have their own views and challenges with Israel. These conversations have molded and challenged my Zionist vision. I continuously learn from my Jewish history and traditions, and from Zionism.
I certainly do not agree with all the Zionists I have met. People engage in Zionism in a variety of ways, ways with which they are most comfortable. However, all Zionists start from a fundamental principle that there must be a Jewish presence in the Land of Israel and that Israel must be secure. What that should look like is commentary. You can be a Zionist advocating for a two-state solution. You can be a Zionist advocating for a confederation between Jews and Arabs in the land. You can be a Zionist and advocate for a one-state solution. You can decide how you want to be a Zionist.
But as active citizens, we also must look at the reality on the ground. We need to know who lives in Israel today and strive to have accurate awareness of the challenges she faces. A large percentage of Jews that live in Israel are Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews whose parents and grandparents grew up in the Middle East and North Africa. They were expelled from countries, where some had family and community history even prior to the Diaspora. Many are Ashkenazi Jews whose parents and grandparents survived the Holocaust and the post-Holocaust persecution, and made their way to Israel. We must also note other Jews such as Bukharan, Yemenite, Ethiopian and many others also made their way to Israel. All with the same story – they were no longer safe where they had once lived. Our Jewish brothers and sisters in Israel have nowhere else to go and so it is our duty as Jews in Diaspora to advocate for their safety and well-being.
It is my belief as a Jew, Zionist, and an engaged citizen that we need support peacebuilding and reconciliation between Jews and Arabs in the land. You do not have to sacrifice Zionism to advocate for the well-being of others in the land. It is through these measures that we can build peace and safety. This is obviously much easier said than done. Israeli policy also greatly affects the lives of Palestinians and this is a difficult and emotional conversation to be had. The processes and measures needed to solve this conflict are beyond the scope and scale of what I can address in a short article. But I want to make it truly clear that Zionists can and should advocate for peace, safety and the well-being for Jews and Arabs in the Holy Land.
If you do not like how the modern State of Israel is being operated, get involved. Change comes from involvement and advocacy. This is where the anti-Zionists fail miserably – by cutting off Israel from their lives they ultimately cut off their involvement with any real peace. There are many organizations involved in advocating for peace and if you feel passionate about a specific vision for Israel, share that vision in the dialogue. I ask that as a young Zionist, you delve into the complexity of Jewish history, Zionist dialogue, and our deep attachment to the Land of Israel. In Gil Troy’s essay, Why I am A Zionist, he lists many reasons why he is a proud Zionist. One that sticks out to me is, “Jews never forgot their ties to their homeland, their love for Jerusalem.”
Our story and history are deeply entrenched in that land. The attachment of the Jewish people to that land is greater than biblical proportions. There is only one Jewish State in this world, and it provides much-needed protection and succour to a continuously oppressed people. As we face the challenges placed upon this generation, I encourage Jewish Zionists to define their Zionism and defend their Zionism and with that, become a part of this new chapter in Jewish history. Let us meet the challenges with the strength and courage of our ancestors, and invest emotionally, intellectually and spiritually as those before us did, and let them look down on us with pride and joy.