Barry L. Schwartz
Rabbi, Author, Teacher

The Open Judaism Blogs #3- We Are All Zionists

It takes tough times to know who your friends are and who are not.

It is gratifying to hear the words of President Biden and see monuments in cities across the world alit in blue and white.

But the sad reality, as I note in the chapter on Israel in my new book, Open Judaism, is that Israel has too many detractors and too few friends.

Now is the time for all Jews to lay aside their differences and stand up, proudly and publicly, for Israel.

As Arnold Eisen, chancellor emeritus of the Jewish Theological Seminary, said in a 2015 address:

“I’d like us to affirm clearly and without equivocation—no matter what our opinions about Israeli policy, that our connection to the State of Israel and its citizens is fundamental, non-negotiable, and unbreakable.”

“That is the heart of the matter for me. I am a political Zionist who believes that the survival and thriving of Jews in the world, including here in America, depend upon the existence and vitality of the State of Israel. I am a cultural Zionist who believes that the flowering of Jewish civilization in the world depends upon the close interaction with the “spiritual center” of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel. And I am a religious Zionist, convinced that Jews are heirs to a unique story that we are responsible for carrying forward, and—because of history, tradition, and faith—partners in a covenant aimed at bringing more justice and compassion to the world.”

Gil Troy, editor of the comprehensive anthology The Zionist Ideas, authored one of the most compelling statements (here condensed) of Zionism, “Why I Am a Zionist” (2001). It is all too relevant at this hour:

“I am a Zionist because I am a Jew—and without recognizing Judaism’s national component, I cannot explain its unique character.

I am a Zionist because I share the past, present, and future of my people, the Jewish people. Our nerve endings are uniquely intertwined.

I am a Zionist because I know my history.

I am a Zionist because Jews never forget their time in their homeland.

I am a Zionist because I celebrate Israel’s existence. Like any thoughtful patriot, though I might criticize particular government policies I dislike, I do not delegitimate the state itself.”

Perhaps the last word belongs to HaTikvah, Israel’s national anthem. Based on a poem written in 1878, and joined with music a decade later, it expresses the age-old yearning for a return to the Jewish homeland:

As long as in the heart, within,

The soul of a Jew still yearns,

And onward, towards the ends of the east,

an eye still gazes toward Zion;

Our hope is not yet lost,

The two-thousand-year-old hope,

To be a free nation in our land,

The land of Zion and Jerusalem.

While today HaTikvah is the national anthem of a sovereign state, is it not also the anthem of the Jewish people?

Are we not all Zionists?

About the Author
Barry L. Schwartz is director emeritus of The Jewish Publication Society, rabbi of Congregation Adas Emuno in Leonia, New Jersey, and author, most recently, of Open Judaism: A Guide for Believers, Atheists, and Agnostics (JPS, 2023).
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