Is There Hope for Religious-Zionism, After All?

I wrote last week that the Otzma Yehudit-Bayi Yehudi (Jewish Power-Jewish Home) deal signalled the death of Religious-Zionism.

Since then, I have been pleasantly surprised. Many leading Religious-Zionist figures, such as Rabbi Moshe Lichtenstein and Rabbi Benny Lau, have strongly condemned the deal.

Last night, I was at a religious Jewish rally of 300 people against the deal.

These things give me a sliver of hope for Religious-Zionism.

And yet.

The condemnation has not been universal in the Religious-Zionist community, as it should be.

The 300 people included very few young people, indicating the lack of a “next generation” of moderate Religious-Zionism, and was mostly Anglo, indicating, perhaps, the lack of values like democracy and equality to permeate mainstream Israeli-born Religious-Zionist communities.

The rally ended with Hatikva. As I sang the words, I thought about how, in contrast to my childhood, when the Star Spangled Banner and Hatikva were sung at almost every major school assembly, I now sing Hatikva once or twice a year: On Yom Hazikaron and/or Yom Haatzmaut.

As I belted out the line about being a free people in our land, I thought not only of freedom from war or oppression against us, but also, of freedom from ourselves: from the psychological effects of 2,000 years worth of trauma, from hatred, from bigotry, from fear -that too, was part of the original Zionist vision. There was a desire to create a “new Jew” who would be a blank slate, unaffected by the Diaspora experience. I used to want this for my hypothetical  future children, but now, I increasingly think that maybe being a minority is a healthy experience for understanding important values, like tolerance -which is why we needed to experience being a minority in Egypt before we were ready to accept the Torah at Mount Sinai.

And yet.

Being a minority can be scary -and of course, it means seeing every storefront fill with Santa images and feeling a little bit sorry for yourself. Hanukkah feels like a consolation prize for not getting Christmas. I made aliyah in part because I wanted to raise kids in a place where being Jewish doesn’t make them feel left out. But will they feel left out among their own community for believing that all people are created equal? Even worse: Will they choose the mainstream values over my own?

And yet.

Being at the rally last night was a reminder of my primary reason for making aliyah -to be at the center of Jewish history. By taking 2 hours out of my Saturday night, I was able to help impact the direction and values of the Jewish state.

That is a miraculous opportunity -one that my ancestors waited for for 2,000 years.

We have the land. Now we are waiting for our freedom.

But Zionism is not about waiting. It is about action. Freedom from foreign oppression may be beyond our control – we cannot control the acts of other nations.*

We can however, control our own actions. We can start the process of self-liberation, on an individual and social level -and then we will truly be, in the words of Hativka, “a free nation in our land”.

Our hope is not yet lost -od lo avda tikvateu.

*Of course, we can defend ourselves when they fight against us, and hopefully stop them. But we can’t stop other nations from hating us or trying to destroy us.

About the Author
Shayna Abramson, a part-Brazilian native Manhattanite, studied History and Jewish Studies at Johns Hopkins University before moving to Jerusalem. She has also spent some time studying Torah at the Drisha Institute in Manhattan, and has a passion for soccer and poetry. She is currently pursuing an M.A. in Political Science from Hebrew University, and is a rabbinic fellow at Beit Midrash Har'el.
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