At 23 years old, after finishing a university degree, becoming professionally licensed in my field, and seeing my long-awaited future becoming a reality, I felt a pull to Jerusalem in my soul whose light could not be diminished.
Despite having no family and few friends in Israel, I moved to Israel to prepare myself for joining the IDF as a combat soldier.
As I saw it (and still see it), my brothers and sisters in Israel were on the front lines defending the Jewish people’s right to live free and secure in our eternal Homeland. It was time to honor my history and do my part in protecting the Jewish people’s future.
While seemingly exceptional and a bit bizarre, my story is not unique in the slightest. There are thousands of lone soldiers from every corner of the world who have felt this emotional attachment to a land they have never called home and the need to play their part in a nation at once 4,000 years old and 67 years young.
In a broader sense, my story is even less unique. The Jewish people are connected by a bond that has endured over 2,000 years in the most bitter of circumstances; it is this bond that has allowed us to survive and thrive as Jews in the first place. Without this belief that we would one day return home and without this connection to each other, we never would have survived the world’s relentless attempts to destroy us.
Our peoplehood, which until the rebirth of Israel remained abstract and indescribable, is how Jews from lands and cultures as far away as Ethiopia, the Soviet Union, and the United States can all feel, improbably, a personal stake in the survival of one another. As Daniel Gordis has written, it this national narrative, this ineffable understanding that we are part of a history greater than ourselves, that has led the Jewish people to overcome unspeakable horrors, achieve magnificent successes, and remain in our hearts and souls “Jews.” King David, Judah Maccabee, Moshe Dayan, and Menachem Begin, while separated by 2,000 years, spoke the same language, toiled the same land, and dedicated their lives to the same purpose. In our hearts, we understand that they are all part of one remarkable story. Our Story. Our History.
This is Zionism. This is the story America’s Israel advocates need to be proclaiming for the world to hear: Zionism is Just. Zionism is the return of an indigenous people to its homeland after untold centuries of murder, persecution and oppression. Israel is the national redemption of the Jewish people in the one corner of the Earth that has always served as our national, religious and spiritual home.
I did not join the IDF because of Israeli technological genius or because we created the cell phone. Soviet Jews did not feel a pull to Zion because of our medicinal breakthroughs and because Israel is the “Start Up Nation.” The early Zionists did not leave family and friends and endure the hardships they did because of Israeli strawberries and vegetables. And while it is certainly important that Israel is a democracy in a part of the world that treats the idea of freedom like a disease not to be caught, that is not why thousands of Ethiopian Jews have come home either.
Our country was re-established to serve as a safe-haven for Jews around the world so that the Jewish people could once again return to the forefront of history as the leading actors of our own story. We sweat, bled, and died so that we could regain the responsibility and the difficult choices inherent to having one’s own sovereignty. We envisioned, prayed for, and dreamed about contributing to the world a uniquely Jewish answer to the question: What is our purpose here? We came home so we could be Jews and carry on our story.
Our defense of Israel and Zionism around the world has not succeeded because defense never does. Zionism doesn’t need to be defended. It needs to be proclaimed. Zionism is a passionate cry of freedom and redemption. We need to speak in the language of justice, Jewish civil rights, and Jewish history.
It is mind boggling to me when my fellow Americans (particularly on college campuses) make our case by pointing to our medicinal and technological achievements, our record on gay rights, women’s rights, our freedom of the press, etc. Our enemies don’t hate us because we aren’t doing a good enough job running our country. Our detractors aren’t nitpicking about the way we govern. They don’t care about that. It’s why we, and not the dozens of countries around the world worthy of international scorn, are targeted for delegitimization. They don’t want us to improve our country. They don’t think we should have one. THEY DON’T THINK WE HAVE THE RIGHT TO EXIST. They think that we are an illegal, foreign colonial entity. They think we are ethnically cleansing the “Native Arab population” of Palestine. They think that we are war criminals and murderers. And our response is to talk about the iPhone and our disaster relief team in Haiti??
We need to talk about the Jewish people’s 4,000 year continual presence in the land of Israel. We need to talk about the fact that far from ethnically cleansing the Arabs of Palestine, since the beginning of the modern Zionist movement, the Arab population has INCREASED exponentially, and since the Jewish return to Judea & Samaria, the Arab population’s quality of life, by every possible measure (education, life expectancy, mortality rates, freedom), has improved dramatically as well. The Jewish return to the land of Israel has meant the creation of the 1.2 million most free, equal, and prosperous Arabs in the entire Middle East. We need to speak proudly about the Israel Defense Forces, the most humane and moral army in the history of the world up against the most unique challenge an army has ever faced, in that 250,000,000 of our neighbors have repeatedly tried to throw us into the sea for 100 years.
We need to proclaim to the world that the (returning) Jewish presence in Judea & Samaria (The “West Bank”) since 1967 is THE RESULT of 50 years of relentless Arab aggression against the Jews of Israel and thus it can’t retroactively be claimed as THE CAUSE of such aggression. While it is not our job to proscribe future policy as it pertains to Judea and Samaria, the facts of how we legally and justly reclaimed it is inescapable. We need to be indignant about the fact that in between the second and third Jewish commonwealths (a period of 2,000 years) not a single independent state had ever been created in historic Israel, and not a single people, besides the Jews, have ever called Jerusalem their capital city. We need to proclaim the right of the Jewish people to a state in our indigenous homeland, the only Jewish state in the only Jewish land we have ever had. We need to stand up and be proud of the fact that when 800,000 Jews were thrown out of the Arab World in the 1940s-1950s Israel proudly took them, while the Arab world let their similarly numbered refugees wallow in misery to be callously used as a permanent political chip against the Jewish people. Simply put, we need to be in the conversation and fight.
We American Jews need to stop our obsessive pandering to the effect that we crave peace. Peace would be a beautiful thing, and as a current soldier in the IDF, I of course, want peace for myself, my friends, and their families. But peace doesn’t hold a candle to justice and it is on this scorecard that we aren’t even competing. I’ve been on university campuses when Jewish students try to rationally and objectively show the brave and difficult steps Israel has taken for peace. It’s all true, well done, and, of course, it is important that Israel takes such steps towards peace. Meanwhile the anti-Israel hordes scream about “occupation,” “ethnic cleansing,” and “Colonialism!” They stage fake demonstrations of “mean” IDF soldiers and “innocent” Arabs, and build allegorical “apartheid walls”. Who can even hear the calm voices of Israeli advocates over the emotional tantrums of our detractors?
In that all too familiar situation, who seems more self-assured and confident in the rightness of their cause? Instead of whispering about peace, which requires two equally committed sides and is thus not under our control, how about we boldly proclaim for Jewish justice; Jewish freedom to live in our homes free from the fear of stabbings, persecution or harassment by our neighbors or by an ignorant media that feeds into such tried and tired anti-Semitic tropes.
It is against most Jews’ nature to be confrontational, aggressive, or combative. Our history in exile has taught us that to turn the other cheek, to “not make a scene”, and to “blend in with the crowd” is the best way of surviving in other people’s lands. And so it was. But we are living in a new era of freedom and sovereignty and against an enemy whose history has taught them the exact opposite lesson: Absolute authority and confidence wins the day.
Be bold. Be indignant. Fight fire with fire. Come prepared. We cannot be afraid to fight for our history. We cannot be afraid to proclaim our rights, and argue our history, passionately and defiantly. Only then will we have a chance of showing the world the righteousness of our cause and the beauty of Zionism.
We are one nation. One people. We have been attached to our homeland since our exile from it 2,000 years ago. It is a bond that defies all logic yet remains as fierce as ever. We are the keepers of a flame started 4,000 years ago and we are the descendants of great Jews like King David and King Solomon, Jewish warriors like Joshua and the Maccabees and great Jewish scholars like Akiva and Ben Giora. Seventy years ago, this flame was almost extinguished, but we came back stronger than ever, having returned en masse to our homeland.
This Is Zionism. This is our story. This has to be the heart of our advocacy and of our outreach to the world.
In other words, we have to change. Now.