July 29, 2004

Power to Inspire

Yesterday I attended a demonstration in front of the Sudanese mission to the U.N., organized by Rabbi Avi Weiss, Rabbi of the HIR in Riverdale, and a Reverend from Green Pastures Congregation, a black Baptist church in the Bronx.

It was amazing to see Jews and Christians together, singing We Shall Overcome as well as English translations of Jewish versus to some of Shlomo Carlebach's tunes. We held hands and together called out against a genocide.

I really felt proud that the Jewish group doing the protesting consisted of people who care a great for Israel, Judaism, and Zionism. It is a small, initial manifestation of the ideas that Ariel has spoken about at our meetings where Zionism would serve as a model for other people to fight for their freedom. It also shows Jews standing up and taking responsibility to fight crimes that we have experienced firsthand ourselves. I used to think that, as a people and a nation-state, if we looked outward before we looked inward, we would never achieve our own safety and security and growth. I think this is a response that springs from a misunderstanding of certain types of Zionism. It reflects on long centuries of persecution and a perpetual lack of security and self-determination.

Now, I believe that as a people and a nation that wants to have a Jewish character, we must simultaneously do all we can to be a nation that embodies our Jewish ideals in our interactions with the rest of the world. This means speaking out against a genocide as it happens before our very eyes.

Posted by Aharon at 01:29 PM | Comments (1685)

Is this Zionism?

I was just reading the American Zionist Movement's website. While they include a copy of the "Jerusalem Program," they have a definition of Zionism in their "about" section that goes as follows:

The American Zionist Movement is a coalition of groups and individuals committed to Zionism, the idea that the Jewish people is one people with a shared history, values and language.

I find this a strange definition of Zionism for a few reasons. Number one, it leaves out any discussion of Israel.

This certainly deviates from tradition and it is something that has come up in CZC meetings.

Secondly, it is nothing more than a descriptive statement: we hold these truths to be self-evident that the Jewish people is one with a shared history, values and language. And, therefore, it cannot possibly be the definition of something that calls itself a movement (funny how Zionist movements are often like that). Does not Zionism have prescriptions for the Jewish People? Isn't it designed to build, to grow, to lead, to move? The AZM definition lacks exactly that which the CZC convened to explore: a Zionism that has meaning, that is going somewhere, and that has the power to inspire Jews and the rest of the world.

And there are a few other things: What do they mean by a shared history? If it is exile, persecution, etc., then yes. I'm not sure what they meant, especially as we Jews have not lived in the same place for thousands of years and thus we lack a shared history, language, etc. That is what Zionism was coming to change but it was based on the recognition of our historical differences. When they say they believe in that idea they don't specify which history is to become our authorized one. There is no explanation.

But I think you could make the argument that the People of Israel was spread out, but continued to see themselves as part of the same nation and family. The way Rambam corresponded with Jews in Yemen and Ashkenaz, referring to each as brothers, is emblematic of that fact. What is beautiful in potentia about Israel to me, is that it is home to a process where all the various Jewish histories are coming together and forging a new one, based on sundry pasts.

Posted by Aharon at 01:08 PM | Comments (2261)

July 20, 2004

Breakdown

It strikes me that Ariel Sharon's recent exhortation to French Jews springs from a negative Zionist perspective. He wants French Jews to make Aliyah in order to save themselves from anti-semites. He doesn't, instead, encourage them to come to Israel because he wants them to participate in building the state that we all dreamed about...

I think we've seen, through some of the CZC meetings and elsewhere, that young Jews today are starting to question which form of Zionism is the most relevant to them. It seems clear to me that we are looking for a form of positive Zionism. This is an issue that is relevant because of the current upheavals in Israeli politics and the way we in the Diaspora relate to them.

Oslo, and what has happened since, has eradicated the classic distinction between left and right. A good case study is the fence. On the one hand, the pragmmatic right, which wants the fence, has decided to desert the ideological right, which detests the fence. On the other hand, the left is undergoing the same transformation: the security left wants the fence while the ideological left does not. The marriages of convenience that have existed for so long are no longer relevant and voters and politicians are having to choose sides that are quite novel. Things have changed.

Using the fence as a case study as to how American Jews see Israel, it proves to be just one more way that the modern day politics of Israel is less and less relevant to the somewhat simplistic understanding of Israeli politics I am finding as I work with adults in Jewish communities in the U.S. Their politics is rooted in an original break between the Zionist revisionists and the old guard, that translated into the Labor-Likkud divide, that settled down into an all encompassing left-right political universe.

American Jews sieze on these distinctions to define their relationship to Israel. They are either Begin people or Ben-Gurion people. Or they speak with fondness of Golda Meir's tenure as if she is relevant today. The problem with this is that it is out of touch with reality of politics in Israel today to the extent that the opinions of Diaspora Jews sound completely ludicrous. By refusing to stay updated and acknowledge change they have abdicated their right to participate, as Jews, in Israel's day to day and long-term political decisions. Their perspective has also grown stale and come to focus more on past infighting than on where we are going to grow as a nation today, and in 100 years.

With all these changes I think a huge opportunity is opening. All the problems, upheavals, and developments in the Israeli system, in addition to our generation's understanding of the world and perspective fifty+ years after the founding of the state, lead me to wonder: We all thought that certain strains of Zionism had died off completely, Ahad Haam's, Buber's, and many others. Were we premature in coming to that conclusion? Are some of those coming back? If so, what are the elements that we want to harvest and which ones are irrelevant?

There is definitley an energy among the remaining Zionists and, I believe, in the Israeli popular sphere, that is pushing for something more substantive on which to base our society and our still emerging state. What do you think?

Posted by Aharon at 05:08 PM | Comments (841)

July 01, 2004

Is the Intifada Good for the Jews?

Larry Derfner has a rather cynical op-ed in the JPost today, called Something to march for. His premise, basically, is that Diaspora Jewish life is nothing without an Israel full of conflict, or, in his words:

"If this storm ever passes, if Israel ever does actually make it to peace, there will be a Golden Age over here. Israeli minds and hearts will open up, there will be hope in the air, and the world will beckon to us again.

But if that day comes, I'm afraid that after the initial burst of sunlight, the sky will turn still and gray again for Diaspora Jewry. If this long storm ever ends, they will miss it.

I disagree. I think that Diaspora Jewry is growing stronger by the day, and many initiatives such as the 20 Something Think Tank and, well, the Creative Zionist Circle, are proof of that. Derfner, I'm afraid, is still caught in the anti-Diaspora mind frame of Classical Zionism. Hope he finds a way to break free and see the truly inspiring things going on in American Jewry. [Crossposted]

Posted by ArielBeery at 01:13 PM | Comments (858)