As the first day of the General Assembly of United Jewish Federations of North America comes to a close, I’m feeling many things.
Tired. Invigorated. Excited. Impressed. Overwhelmed.
Having arrived in Baltimore early this morning, I’ve spent all day wearing two hats. I’m simultaneously participating in the general GA sessions, taking advantage of the networking opportunities available and listening to amazing speakers, and working at Do The Write Thing, the student journalism conference run by the World Zionist Organization Department for Diaspora Activities here at the GA.
For as long as I can remember, my Zionism has been the central component of my Jewish identity. The two go hand in hand, with my relationship with Israel and the Zionist movement giving me a strong connection to the Jewish people worldwide, a sense of purpose and a way to impact the greater Jewish community. As passionately as I feel about Israel, enough so that I’ve chosen to devote myself to the cause of Zionism and Israel education, personally and professionally, I recognize that not everyone is driven by the same emotions that I am. The theme that has served as a backdrop for all of my work has been helping people find their own connections with Judaism, and with Israel, to help them find their own homes and sources of inspiration within the Zionist movement.
Listening to speakers at the GA, it is clear that helping people find their own connections to Judaism, to Israel, to the community, is of the utmost importance. The old models of synagogues and Federations aren’t enough to engage the younger generation of Jews, who are looking for something more personal, more meaningful, and more in tune with their own values. This theme was touched upon by many of the speakers, including Rabbi in Residence Rick Jacobs of URJ, who focused on tikkun olam and commitment to social justice as the facet of Judaism most likely to engage the next generation. I believe in the values of tikkun olam and the importance of repairing the world. But for me, the future of Jewish identity and community, worldwide, is found in Israel, and in Zionism.
Zionism is many things. Jewish nationalism. Belief in the Jewish right to self determination. A revolutionary movement that has brought about revolutionary changes in Jewish culture, language, food, and music. It’s political. It’s not always popular. It’s not fully understood. But it’s mine. It’s ours. The conversation about Zionism is one that is evolving, changing. There are some who talk about redefining Zionism, about broadening the tent of what it means to be a Zionist.
For me, the current conversation about Zionism can be summed up with the following: every year, we say “Next year in Jerusalem” at the Passover seder, and at the conclusion of Yom Kippur. It is a Zionist statement that is deeply ingrained in Jewish religion and culture. And each of us, particularly Jews living in the Diaspora, need to find our own meaning in the phrase, and our own connection to the State of Israel.