Zionism began with Theodore Herzl who had an idea: that someday there might be a Jewish state. In the late 1800’s Herzl’s idea seemed at best unusual, at worst downright crazy, and Herzl himself did not live to see his idea come to pass. But it did.
After the dream of a Jewish country became reality in 1948, we saw the age of David Ben Gurion and his contemporaries, who defended Israel in her infancy. At many moments it was unclear if this Jewish state would last more than a few years. But it did.
Now we live in a new era, one that is perhaps more important than any that came before: we get to decide what kind of a country Israel will be. Like a person who builds a house and must now furnish it into a real home, our goal is not to come into existence, nor merely to survive, but to live. Every time we protest for “tzedek chevrati” (social justice on economic issues) we are asking whether Israel is a socialist country (as it was in the beginning) or a capitalist country, or a little of both, or something else entirely. When we protest in Bet Shemesh (where a small group of religious extremists pressured women to ride in the back of buses) we are asking what it means to live a “Jewish” life, and who gets to decide. On Purim some of us go to synagogue while others go out to parties wearing sexy costumes: not unlike Queen Esther herself (the heroine of the Purim story). Something as simple as the length of a skirt speaks louder than words as it asks: isn’t being sexy a part of being Jewish?
And what about being Israeli? We just observed, in rapid succession, the holidays of Yom HaShoa (Holocaust Remembrance), Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day) and Yom HaAzmaut (Independence Day): an entire week that is very very Israeli, but not historically “Jewish.” Some of my friends are enthusiastic about our country, while some have become jaded and cynical, preferring to avoid holidays like Yom HaZikaron. While I’m not cynical myself, I’m glad to live in a place where we CAN be cynical if we wish to. People worked, fought and even died to bring us the safety that makes cynicism possible, and so I’m happy to see some people take advantage of this precious opportunity.
Once upon a time we dreamt of a Jewish home, and then upon achieving this dream we spent much of our energies fighting for survival. Now we have the luxury of being able to ask: Who are we? What is Israel? What does it mean to be Jewish or Israeli or religious or secular, and who gets to decide and why? I’m not saying that we will have all the answers, but I’m glad to be in a place where, through the very conduct of our lives, we get to ask the questions.
To read my thoughts on what it means to disagree with Israeli policies in this new age of Zionism, you can read my piece about how to be “Inside the Tent.” And for a bit more personal background, you can read about How I Got Here. If you’d like a more political perspective, you can visit my personal blog, incuding my recent piece on Remembering the Holocaust in the age of modern conflicts.