Wednesday, May 23, 2012

reclaiming Zionism

Ever since UN resolution 3379 was passed in 1975 declaring Zionism to be racism, and despite the fact it was repealed in 1991, the image of Zionism has become increasingly tainted by the enemies of Israel and many Jews today are uncomfortable with the word. To those people I simply ask "are you guys for real???"! Are we really allowing our enemies to dictate to the Jewish people the definition of one of the cornerstones of Judaism, the concept of Jewish nationalism and our past, present and future connection with the land of Israel that dates back over 4000 years? By slandering Zionism, they take away our heritage, our connection to the land, and our crowning achievement. They

are trying to eradicate our pride in Israel and ourselves as Jews, and we can see this damage clearly in American Jewry's struggle with it's relationship to Israel.
I feel incredibly passionate about this for very personal reasons, because if I hadn't discovered Zionism as a young teenager, I very much doubt I would have any Jewish identity today. The raid on Entebe, lead the eleven year old secular version of me to start to learn about, and even identify with a group of incredible Jews and their dream. You see, I was the only Jew in my school, living in a big city with very few Jews, and I was on the receiving end of constant antisemitic taunts from students and sometimes teachers. Other than seder night and 2 visits to synagogue a year, my Jewish identity revolved around being bullied, and to be frank, I really couldn't see much point in being Jewish since it brought me only grief!

Then one day the talk of the school was the miraculous heroism of what Israel had achieved in Uganda. Movies came out, TV programs recreated the sacrifice of Yoni Netanya
hu and his band of commandos, and I felt the first glimmer of pride in being Jewish and to be in some way associated with these people. I headed to the school library to learn more about Israel and there during lunches and breaks, I found out about amazing people like Theodore Herzl, David Ben Gurion, Golda Meir, Hannah Senesh and the others. 'Exodus' came on TV and I wanted to be like Ari Ben Canaan (Paul Newman's character), even referring to him in my Barmitzva speech.
As I went through school, these heroes gave me a new strength to respond to the bullies, and even once publicly arguing with a teacher who had made a nasty comment. I remember when I was about 14 one of my non Jewish friends parents remarked how wonderful it was that I had such pride in my Judaism. I hadn't realized that my learning about Zionism had brought me to a level of pride, but it was true, and the taunters had lost their power to hurt me.

As I explored further I wanted to know how the Jewish people had survived a 2000
year exile. I remember reading one of my Asterix The Gaul comics and thinking that the Gauls, like the Jews had come up against the Romans, but that their culture, language and history was all but gone, where as we had maintained ours and eventually returned to our homeland. Although from a totally secular Jewish home, I started attending a religious Zionist youth group called Bnei Akiva. I learnt how far back our roots in Israel go, and how once we had built a country based on Torah principles, including a social welfare system, excellent judiciary, & separation of church
and state functions when the ancestors of the British were still living in caves!
I remember one day realizing that although I could only trace my family tree back to 19 century Poland, I knew one thing, perhaps the most important thing, about all my ancestors going back to Roman times when they were forced out of Israel: They wanted me to be Jewish and to remember where I came from! How do I know this? Why else would the Judaism passed down to me have survived the hell of exile? The passion & determination that must have been involved in passing on Judaism to each new generation by these unknown people was to me as amazing a feat as the raid on Entebbe had been.

From that realization, my Jewish identity still grows, leading me to Torah study & a religious Jewish lifestyle, but underpinning all that is my Zionism: my belief in building a Jewish nation state in the land of Israel. As a religious Zionist I still believe deeply in the motto of Bnei Akiva "Am Yisrael, b'Eretz Yisrael, al pi Torat Yisrael" (the people of Israel in the l
and of Israel living according to the Torah of Israel). It is that belief that brought me home, to live in Israel.

So how dare anyone suggest that my beliefs are racist! The Jews found no permanent home anywhere in the world for 2000 years and until 100 years ago had little or no hope of any form of self determination, until Herzl and others decided it was time to take the 'dream' of returning to Israel and make it a reality. 20 years before Herzl, Leo Pinsker in Russia had believed the future of the Jews was in building a Russia together with the Russian nationalists and that this partnership would cement the Jewish place in the new Russia. When the non Jewish intellectuals encouraged and applauded pogroms in towns like Odessa, Pinsker traveled to Germany. There he discovered there was a popular society of antisemitism and he realized the Jews of Europe were doomed. No longer could they hope for benevolent non Jewish leaders to protect them. At the end of his life he wrote of Jewish Auto-emancipation, which would later be known as Zionism. The following 50 years would prove Pinsker to have been almost prophetically right.

At the start of Herzl's Zionist Organization, prior to WW1, the land of Palestine was poor, supporting very few people, with little or no agriculture or industry. The Jews invested time, money and so much effort to drain swamps, plant forests and fields, and build cities. Had they not started this work I doubt the remnants of the Jewish people would have survived the Holocaust, for without hope it is hard to build a future, but survive we did, building a country that defied the odds, fighting war after war against aggressive enemies with vastly superior numbers, building an economy whose success beggars belief,and standing today proudly as a lone beacon of democratic values in the Middle East. That's Zionism. It isnt racism because it isn't about anyone else! It is about Jews finally, after a 2000 year history of abuse, exile and pogrom, taking their destiny into their own hands. It was never about about being better or worse than other nations, it's simply about building a future in this one tiny corner of the world. Nothing in Zionist ideology says or even hints at "Arab Bad, Jew Good", it simply says that Jews came from Israel, found no rest in any other land, and finally returned to their ancestral home, a place we never forgot during the long night of the 2000 year exile.

If you want racist ideology, then bear in mind that it isn't the Jews who wa
nt Arabs removed from their homes and land, it is the Palestinians who want every last Jew gone. Even the moderate Palestinian position, accepting a 2 state solution, does not want any Jews to have even the choice to remain in Palestine as citizens of that country. They want what Hitler called "Judenrein" (we call it ethnic cleansing today). If Zionist thinking was like that, then in 1967, after capturing the Judah & Samaria from Jordan, Israel could have emptied the residents of Hebron, Qalqilya, Ramallah etc, sending the residents to Jordan, but it didn't do that. Israel could have banned Muslim worship on Temple Mount, (as the Arabs had banned Jews from the Western Wall prior to '67), but Israel handed control to Palestinians, who today riot if a Jew so much as moves his lips in prayer in that area. The racism in Israel doesn't coming from the Zionists.

Let me end with a reminder of what Zionism has achieved: 60% of world Jewry lives in Israel, in cities we built despite wars, poverty, & holocaust. We have taken our language of Hebrew, used only for prayer and Torah study since Roman times, and we have resurrected it into a living language, replacing Yiddish as the "Jewish" language; This tiny country has a free press, a proactive and free Judiciary, and democratic rights enshrined into the fabric of the state. Zionisms technological achievements have changed the world for the bette
r. Arab & Jewish citizens of this country are represented in parliament, have both their languages recognized as official languages by the State, and benefit from its economic and technological successes. Zionism did that, and it something every Jew has to take pride in, and that the world should applaud.

Lets all say it loud and let nobody dare denigrate this incredible achievement of the Jewish people: Zionism gave Jews back their self esteem, their future and most of it gave them a home where I now live: I AM PROUD TO BE A ZIONIST !!!

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