Stephen Daniel Arnoff
Author, Teacher, and Community Leader

Herzl and Lennon and the World As One

I grew up, like many of you, in a world that John Lennon created. I’m not talking about world of the Beatles – whom even this Bob Dylan obsessive can admit were ultimately the greatest global force for peace, love, and understanding in any of our lifetimes – but rather the world of “Imagine:”

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion, too
Imagine all the people
Livin’ life in peace
You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

The spirit of the 60’s, a liberal-humanist worldview, women’s lib, and civil rights for people of color, the LGBTQ community, and differently-abled people – that’s what my grandparents, parents, the Beatles, and the rabbis I tried to ignore all taught me when I was growing up: “Imagine all the people livin’ for all the world.”

My colleague Ze’ev Maghen has written a book entitled John Lennon and the Jews. Ze’ev is a brilliant scholar, a renaissance man, but I completely disagree with the premise of the book. He holds that it is not possible to be both a universalist, humanist Lennonite believing in a dream of singular love and liberation for all people and a proud Zionist, committed completely to Judaism.

Ze’ev’s dilemma is precisely what the fierce struggles for Israel’s soul before and after the national holidays of Yom HaZikaron and Yom HaAtzmaut are all about.

You can be a deeply committed Jew and a generous, connected, deeply committed citizen of the world. You can believe in the halachic contours of the mitzvot and celebrate the beauty of the obligation of people everywhere to immerse themselves in their own very different faiths. You can believe with all of your heart and soul and might  – yes, just like it says in the Sh’ma, the watchword of the Jewish faith – that a Jewish, democratic country called Israel must thrive even as it embraces and celebrates differences concerning faith, individual liberties, and the rights of all within this country to live their lives in peace. You can love a strong, independent Israel, happily interdependent within your heritage and people, and still be an independent thinker with a unique story to tell.

To be a proud, independent, interdependent Zionist fighting for John Lennon’s dream that “the world will be as one” is the challenge of our moment. And while phony Beatlemania, as the Clash promised, may have ultimately bitten the dust, the words of Isaiah (Isaiah 66:18) have not:
For I know their deeds and purposes.
The time has come to gather all the nations and tongues;
they shall come and behold My glory.
There is a meme popping up across social media of Theodore Herzl covering his face with shame over the strife in today’s Israel. While universalism and particularism, chosenness and choosiness, and democracy and fascism clash, I hold tight to the dream of what is possible for Israel, dreaming of a Jewish, democratic state where all are one. If we will it and imagine it, as the song and the saying go, it is not a dream, but rather the world that we made possible together.
About the Author
Dr. Stephen Daniel Arnoff is the CEO of the Fuchsberg Jerusalem Center and author of the book About Man and God and Law: The Spiritual Wisdom of Bob Dylan.
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