Leon Wiener Dow
Director of Beit Midrash at Kolot, Creator and Host of Pod Drash, Author of National Jewish Book Award Winner "The Going"
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Inconveniently nonbinary

What if at the core understanding of 'our' homeland is a piece of earth that can never be possessed?
View of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives Cemetery (iStock)
View of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives Cemetery (iStock)

Native or immigrant? Indigenous or conqueror? Local or colonialist? Homeland or diasporic?


We are a colonialist enterprise, you say.

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But in your act of labelling us, have you not committed your arch-sin of imperialism? The Jewish ‘people’ – whatever we mean by that, for it is we who will define ourselves – and our relationship to land, needs to fit your binary categories? What if we reject the couplets you offer us?

What if we are local to Israel and we don’t belong anywhere?

What if our ancestors came from Ur Kasdim but – from their very first moments of group consciousness – defined themselves as journeying: and not just sojourning, but journeying to somewhere, in the direction of the Land of Canaan-Israel-Palestine?

What if at the core understanding of “our” homeland is a piece of earth that can never be possessed? What if “ours” is a territory that demands its own freedom every seven years, one that constantly threatens to vomit out any inhabitants that visit iniquity upon it? What if the land’s sabbatical of freedom coincides with, and calls us to heed, the right of the impoverished to break the shackles of permanent poverty and go free of debt?

What if our people – variegated in color, diverse in belief, divergent in opinion – cannot even muster a coherent voice regarding the relationship between our collective being and this little strip of land? Does that weaken our case in your eyes? Do those of “us” who agree with you fortify your robust sense of self-confidence and moral righteousness?

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And you – with presumption of knowledge; human callousness; historical-short-sightedness; duplicitous moral outrage; and bigotry in the guise of intellectual posturing: you who hail the nonbinary nature of gender as a social construct:

You will insist that a group’s relationship to land can only be binary?

And, while at it, you will decide the point in time at which to begin the historical count, such that certain people will meet your definition of “natives” while others will be “colonialists”?

“One must have a home in order not to need it,” wrote Jean Amery.

I belong to that part of the Jewish people that declares unequivocally: we need a home. And, what’s more: we will pay the dual price of long-term rental (since “our” homeland is not to be owned): the physical risk of defending it and the spiritual cost of living in the moral morass that having a home entails.

About the Author
Leon Wiener Dow is the creator and host of Pod Drash and the head of the beit midrash at Kolot. His book The Going: A Meditation on Jewish Law won the 2018 National Jewish Book Award in the area of Contemporary Jewish Life and Practice. He lives in Jerusalem with his wife and their five children.