Jewish identity through the eyes of a Zionist

“You’re a Jew? But you don’t look like one”. In many European countries Jews hear sentences like these when they out their Jewish identity. Many Jews grow up learning that their Jewish identity is something they should hide to stay out of trouble. But what is this Jewish identity about? There are diverse approaches towards ones’ Jewish identity: People might have a religious explanation, a cultural one, talk about tradition or their homeland.

What I find interesting is how different the approach towards one’s Jewish identity is perceived by Jews living inside and those outside of Israel. Outside of Israel the picture the society paints of Jews is often seen in a negative way. The word “JEW” seems to have a special connotation. Sometimes Jews are perceived as weak like victims of the Shoa, other times as some sort of superhuman with monster powers. There are lots of stereotypes and even worse conspiracy myths. Being Jewish might feel like a burden, people are too afraid to openly live with.

In Israel the opposite is true. As a Jew you’re not a minority and you’re not afraid. Because of the neighbor states the Israelis do have a strong need of security, but they feel strong and proud to be a Jew no matter what. From a young age children learn that one day they’ll need to take responsibility for their country and their nation.

The Torah tells us to “be a light for the nations”. It’s a great responsibility to be that. But in every possible field the Israelis are willing to contribute to make the world a better place – in medicine, technology, agriculture, science, security and many more areas. There is reason why Israel is called the Start Up Nation and that is why. Israel is a fascinating country. The amount of innovation, creativity and positivity is incredible there. It seems like the Israelis are living by the famous quote of one of the founding fathers of Israel Theodor Herzl “If you will it, it is not a dream”. It became like a motto to them.

100 Years before the founding of the Jewish State Theodor Herzl understood its necessity for the Jewish people. Throughout history Jews were constantly suppressed or discriminated, it feels like antisemitism is an old bad habit that the people can’t let go of. Jews always had their homeland, but it wasn’t a state yet. That is why Theodor Herzl was drafting his utopian plan of a Jewish State. In his famous work “The Jewish State” he says neither should there be new distinctions made between the nations nor new borders created. The ideal would be to have no need in borders at all. But for now, Jews need a safe home. His passion and strong belief for this utopia is transmitted with strong and beautiful words:

“Now it depends on the Jews to make of this either a political pamphlet or a political romance. If the present generation is too dull to understand it rightly, a future, a finer, and a better generation will arise to understand it. The Jews wish for a State—they shall have it, and they shall earn it for themselves.“

Herzl was an activist and his utopia became reality. There was a generation of brave men and women who fought for this dream. With hard work they built the country. The emancipation of Jews couldn’t have happened without the foundation of a Jewish State. It’s not perfect, but we can work on its perfection. It’s a country full of Prime ministers, where everyone has an opinion where it’s needed and where it’s not. Of course, one can’t deny that antisemitism is unfortunately still an issue today, but the Jewish identity and the Jewish response to it have changed. #Neveragain now also mean: We will never let this happen to our nation ever again. We are strong and we will defend ourselves.

I strongly believe that the foundation of a Jewish State in the Jewish homeland is the best thing that could’ve happened to the Jewish nation.

Israel rose like a phoenix from the ashes. That’s the picture I have in my mind, when I stand on the last gallery of Yad Vashem and see this beautiful view on Jerusalem before me. In the back there is pain, sorrow, horror and fear but ahead of me there is a wonderful, bright future and hope. Israel gives us hope. There is no other place on earth where I can be more proud of being Jewish than in Medinat Israel. And this is Zionism for me. I’m a Zionist.

This blog has been submitted as part of a wider campaign, which is being run by the European Union of Jewish Students (EUJS) entitled “Theodor & I – Zionism and Young European Jews”. Being launched on Yom Ha’atzmaut, the campaign seeks to start a discussion on Zionism, towards challenging the existing conversation surrounding the concept and ultimately highlighting the plurality of Jewish European identity and Zionism.

About the Author
Anna Staroselski is the President of the German Union of Jewish Students (JSUD). She studies history and works in the office of a member of the German Parliament.
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