What does Zionism means today? A European view

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 Haatzmaut, 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.

I was born in 1997 in Frankfurt on the Main. This means that I never saw the wall separating West and East Germany. When the Euro is was introduced as our currency I was in kindergarten. I am a digital native. And for my whole life, the state of Israel, founded in 1948, has existed.

„Ha-Tikwa bat shnot alpajim: Lihot am chofschi be-arzenu – Erez Zion wi-Jerushalajim“ This is the final sentence of the Israeli national anthem. It translates to “the Hope, two thousand years old, to be a free people, in our land, in the land of Zion and Jerusalem” and still describes the age-old wish for the Jewish people to return to our historic homeland. Nowadays, we are lucky. The lyrics of the Hatikwa, written as the anthem of the Zionist movement, has become reality over 70 years ago. The
idea of the “Jewish state”, first described in the 19 th century by Theodor Herzl has become reality, but what does Zionism mean for a young European Jew in the 21 st century?

Born in the country which persecuted and killed my family. Grown up in the country which only partially was able to start its development to a free and democratic republic from 1945. It is almost funny that the Federal Republic of Germany, united as we know it today, the state where I was politically socialised, is younger than Israel. The state of Israel had to become the new home for so many members of my family. The Jewish state, where I lived for a longer period of time after graduating high school. Everyone needs a place to flee to, a second home with a feeling of safety at all times. This second home, for me, from a historic, religious and ideological point of view is Israel.

My Zionism is a combination of different ideas: democracy, solidarity and dialogue. Israel is a country, which on the 14th of May 1948 proclaimed not only its independence, but also its commitment to pluralism and democracy:
“The state of Israel will be open for Jewish Immigrants and for the ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants, it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitant irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”

Across the globe, extremists are trying to undermine democracy. We have a duty to defend basic democratic rights, such as freedom of opinion, freedom of demonstration and minority rights. Especially a democratic country with a historic background such as Israel has a responsibility towards its inhabitants to sustain these rights. This leads me to my second point: solidarity.Whether you are in Israel or Europe, left or right, religious or secular. Zionism is everything but homogenous. Too often, the uniting wish to self-determination of the Jewish people is neglected through to discussions and disagreements of ideology. My Zionism understands that there is a different reality of lifestyle in Israel than in Europe. Germany and its neighbours live in peace next to each other. I can peacefully visit my friends regularly and exchange with them. Israel’s security is a key component of my Zionism, a component which I am fighting for on a daily basis.

My Zionism is expected, by so is the understanding that Europe has been the home for hundreds of thousands Jewish people for centuries. Europe, and especially Germany, is not a home only for dead Jews. Judaism outside of Israel is not limited to concentration camps. Am Israel Chai, in Europe too.
My Zionism is a mix of advice and self-reflection. Israel and Europe can only learn from this two sided process. Friendship and trust are built on these two principles. The Zadikim teach us in the Talmud tract Sanhedrin the sentence “Kol Israel Arevim Zeh La Zeh”. We are responsible for the state of Israel, and the state of Israel is responsible for us. As much as Israel has the right to discuss European matters, we have the right, if not the responsibility, to discuss what is happening in Israel. This does not happen out of rejection, but out of love to our homeland. Israel is the land of all of us. A country like any other country. A country which makes mistakes, but mistakes are what makes us grow. It is our choice and responsibility to decide how to deal with these mistakes.

My Zionism is open for dialogue. Zionism, in our day and age, lives of different opinions and ideas. We need to talk to each other, rather than about each other, to stop society drifting away from each other. We need to listen more, and stop judging. We think we know everything, but we are not willing to admit our flaws. This is important to us inside and out. Because to build peace, we need to be able to speak to each other productively.

I do not know what the future holds. I do not know whether I will stay in Germany or if I will move to Israel. I do not know whether there will be a one or two state solution- however, my Zionism believes in peace: Shalom, Salam, Peace.

About the Author
Ruben Gerczikow, from Frankfurt, Germany, is the Vice-President of the European Union of Jewish Students (EUJS), the umbrella organization representing more than 160.000 young Jews between 18 and 35 in 36 countries. Furthermore he is the Vice-President of the German Union of Jewish Students (JSUD), which is representing 25.000 young Jews between 18 and 35 in Germany.
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