Ephraim Kahn
Ephraim Kahn

Of Zionism, Education and Future

Describe to me your community’s Zionism Education, I will tell you its future

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.

Theodor and I. Hmmm, there’s a sentence I never thought I’d write. 

Here’s why: History remembers winners, but is much richer – and insightful – when considered through the multiplicity of actors who took part in its battlefield of ideas. You’re certainly awesome, Theodor; but Zionism is so much more than Hertzlism or Ben-Gurionism. 

To my eyes, the tragedy of European Zionism is its state of dispossession. As opposed to the previous century, when you had European Jewish thinkers such as Emmanuel Levinas fostering a unique approach to Zionism, it seems that contemporary European Jewish communities don’t feel they have the strength (or the legitimacy) to do so. And what we are left with is a one-sided, uncriticised caricature of Zionism. 

Moreover: when asked to think about challenges facing Zionism, we are all too often drawn to the issue of Hasbara or “How to better market Zionism”. Unfortunately, this work is more often than not, about the apologetical defense of a vision of Israel we have not taken part in forming. 

Rather than adopt a narrative imported to us by agencies of the prevalent discourse, our schools and youth movements could be teaching the many stories of Zionism, and (Heaven forbid!) conduct honest conversations about the various issues surrounding it. 

As European Jews, we have a unique opportunity: that of telling a story that is both empathetic and critical of Zionism. 

Zionism has so many illustrious champions of enlightenment and humanism, who can inspire us in fostering a refreshing Alt-Neu outlook on the issue –

  • Albert Einstein, warning in 1925 about the dangers of nationalism, in a letter for the opening of the Hebrew University. 
  • Joseph Roth, maturely naming the Zionist idea both a necessity and a buying into the 19th century “nationalistic craze”. 
  • Martin Buber founding a party (called “Ihud”, union) advocating for a bi-national state. 
  • And so many more…

Let our youth learn Amos Oz’s critic of “Yerushalaim Shel Zahav”. 

Let it study Moroccan poet and Torah scholar David Bouzaglo’s response to Haim Guri’s “Bab El Wad”, in a text called “Binu Na Mordim”. 

Let it know of Shulamit Aloni’s fierce battles for human rights to be recognised as unalienable by Israeli Law. 

Our communities could be so much more vibrant and engaging if our youth were given the chance to form an opinion of its own. The issue goes far beyond Zionism; it is a matter of educating the next generation of original Jewish thinkers and allowing it to infuse new sap into European Judaism’s deep roots. 

Trust our youth. Stop spoon-feeding it readymade ideas; it is wiser and better than that. Let our institutions present it with the many shades of Zionism, and allow it to carry its own voice. 

The day we will start teaching Hannah Arendt’s thoughts on Zionism alongside Theodor Hertzel’s, and Avot Yeshurun’s poetry together with Naomi Shemer’s songs, we will have a youth that is stronger, more open, and, ultimately, more Jewish. 

The opinions represented in these blogs do not necessarily reflect the position and views of EUJS.

About the Author
Ephraim Kahn is a Paris-based young Talmud and poetry lover. He currently assists a researcher at the Université Libre de Bruxelles, in the Philosophy of Talmudic Law Studies. He is the former Jewish Education Advisor of the European Union of Jewish Students.
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