Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Zionism and Jewish Unity



I hope the rendition of Hatikvah in the video above was as inspiring for you as it was for me. Yet, not all Jews are inspired by the Jewish State, let alone its national anthem. For an outsider, this seems absolutely preposterous. But for Jews, it's all part of being an opinionated family.

As Israel begins its 63rd year of modern existence, the debates of the founders still echo in the hearts and minds of Jews worldwide. Jews of all persuasions continue to argue over everything from domestic policy to whether Zionism itself should be allowed. For the sake of clarity, Zionism is a term meaning that Jews have the right to live in their ancestral homeland of Israel along with the resumption of Jewish sovereignty. This idea should unite us unlike anything else, but so often it does not. For both political and religious reasons, certain factions of Jews have rendered Zionism a bad word.

Many secular Jews who get their history solely from college are completely inundated with anti-Israel sentiment. Over time, this has had a disastrous effect. When they start believing all their professors' attempts to delegitimize the Jewish State, they inevitably overlook the fact that Israel has been a beacon of freedom among a sea of tyrannies. Similarly, there are many religious Jews who are not fond of Israel's largely secular founding, and a small number vehemently oppose any Jewish sovereignty in Israel until the Messianic era. This has inevitably led to a lack of gratitude for the modern state, despite the fact that Torah learning in yeshivot and seminaries has thrived in the country.

Israel's creation and continued existence is a miracle that is all too often taken for granted. It needs to be better appreciated. While there will always be religious and secular purists who stand against the state for one reason or another, those voices don't speak for the vast majority of Jews. As imperfect as Israel may be, it was, is, and always will be the Jewish homeland. It's neither a secular nor religious utopia, but it has produced great benefits for Jews of all stripes. Perhaps some of its citizens lack in spirituality or appreciation of its founders, but that will come in time.

I'm sure there are some readers who disagree with parts of this post, but that demonstrates the beauty of Judaism in general and of Israel in particular. From religion to politics to family life, there are significant disagreements among different Jews of goodwill. But the very fact that we feel so comfortable expressing our individual points of view shows just how much of a family we are. Two siblings at the dinner table might shout at each other during a conversation, but in the end, the family unit is one. In fact, a native-born Israeli is often referred to as a Sabra (a "prickly pear" - hard on the outside, soft on the inside). They might be in-your-face and opinionated, but when push comes to shove, they'll save your life.

The irony, of course, is that when we stop dividing each other so much, the land will stop being divided and return to its highest spiritual state. Then the rebuilding of the final Beit HaMikdash (Holy Temple) can ensue - what religious Jews most want, along with world peace - what secular Jews most want. The fulfillment of the Messianic era is a process, often taking longer than we would like, but a process nonetheless. Major historical events don't happen by accident, let alone in the holiest place on earth.

Rashi's commentary on the very first verse of the Torah explains that the account of creation set the moral basis for the Jewish inheritance of Israel. God has the ultimate authority over every claim of land, and He will vouch for Israel's legitimacy. Thus, it can be argued that God was the original Zionist. This all leads to my theory about the founding of Israel: God allowed mostly (though not exclusively) secular Jews to establish the modern state as a way of telling us that we are all important in His eyes. It is God's land, and He decides who can prosper within it. He chose the Jewish people - all the Jewish people - charedi (religious), chiloni (secular), and everything in between.

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