Ianai Silberstein
Ianai Silberstein

Passover: Zionism revisited

A hundred and twenty years ago the First Zionist Congress was held in Basel, Switzerland, in the heart of Europe; one year from today, the State of Israel will celebrate its 70th anniversary amidst the turmoil of the Middle East. In the meantime, we’ve witnessed, as a people, the Balfour Declaration in 1917, the U.N. vote for the partition of Palestine in 1947, the creation of the State in 1948, and the Six-Day war in 1967. In this context, this year of 2017 becomes very suggestive concerning Zionism: if we miss the opportunity given by these round anniversaries we’re not only missing the chance for grandiose, formal events, which I’m sure won’t be lackinng; rather, we’d be missing the chance to offer ourselves, as one was supposed to offer God in a sacrifice, an approach to Zionism that both will renew it and make it significant for future generations. A hundred and twenty years, fifty years for that matter, are a very long time in modern terms: a “national home” has become a State; the “Israel Defense Force” has become, to some, an “occupying” force. What is the adequate discourse for Zionism in the XXI century?

We should be grateful, however we choose to, for the passing of these years and the fact that we’re still around and striding firmly. There’s been no lack of tragedies in over a century, the Shoa being the ultimate historic tragedy of the Jewish people. We’ve managed to overcome every difficult situation and move forward in our relentless search for peace and redemption. Out of the Holocaust came the creation of a State, not a national home; in the land of Israel, not Uganda or Argentina. Out of the 1948 war the State managed to become viable, in spite of the now relevant Palestinian narrative of displacement. Out of the Six Day War Jerusalem was reunited and securer borders were achieved, in spite of the conflicting consequence of the occupation as seen fifty years later. Out of the Iom Kippur war in 1973 Israel achieved peace with Egypt and later with Jordan, in spite of the fall of the Labor government and a drastic shift of the country to the right.

I don’t want to go into the matter of high-tech, “start-up country”, or how many Nobel prizes Jews have won… in the context of Passover, of telling the story of leaving Egypt to venture into the Promised Land, it is not a matter of numbers, economics, or IQ, but a matter of values. Our journey, as important as Herzl’s contribution was, is not political but of experience. Our move is not only out of subjection to others people’s will and rule (as we’ve lived most of our history) into sovereignty, but out of a state of fear and superstition into an ever-moving search for moral truth and justice. Leaving Egypt was only the beginning of the story, as Pesach is the starting point of our national experience. The experience at Sinai (Shavuot) and the journey through the desert (we’re always journeying) as celebrated in Sucot, are the permanent, symbolic steps in our trip home.

We seem to be having some trouble figuring out what kind of home it is that we want to inhabit, be it abroad or in Israel. Our many tents, oh Jacob, reflect our almost infinite variations on the same story, as told in Pesach. So, this is one issue we’ll have to address in the future in more creative ways. For now, urgently in face of the many questions regarding our rights and claims, we need to focus on the Zionist narrative. The next century of Zionism needs to tell new stories, to create a new tale that will include that which was left out a century or so ago: the rights of others to more or less the same land; the growth of ultra-orthodox Jewry; the nuclearization of the area, and so on. Not even Ben-Gurion could foresee everything. As we include other people’s narratives into ours, not for a second should we leave out our own: from Genesis 12:1 on, our claim and right is not only written, it is lived by. As liberated slaves we should always care for the “other”, but as Hillel put it, we must put ourselves first at all time: do not do to others what you wouldn’t want done to YOU. As we understand the Palestinian plight, or the Charedi claims, we must never forget nor stop telling our own tale. Not for a year, for an hour, for a minute, for a second…

So, let us walk together into the Seder table this year with a fresh sense of history in our senses; after all, the Passover Seder is about experiencing, telling, singing, and discussing while comfortably reclining on our seats as free men and women. As some have added an orange to the Keara complying with Susannah Heschel’s challenge, we should enlarge our scope of conversation as to include Zionism for the next generations. As the Hagada says, “in every generation one must tell the story as if one had exited Egypt”, we could also say: in every generation one must tell the story as if Zionism had started in Egypt. After all, Zionism was the answer the Jewish people found for themselves in face of the Holocaust. Not merely as am expression of hope at the end of ceremonies, but as real option to be a Jew.

Chag Hapesach Kasher beSameach!

About the Author
Sixty-two, married, a son and a daughter. Very closely related to Israel, residing in Uruguay. Retired. Lay leader for the Masorti congregation in Montevideo. Served as President of the Board. Vice President of the Board of the Jewish school. Twenty years involvement in community affairs. Attended the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem seven times for their CLP programs. Writer & lecturer.