I was mortified on the day I concluded that Zionism for secular Jews is dead.
I was sitting in an orientation for Birthright at Tel Aviv University with thirty-four other Israeli soldiers, all except for one us from secular backgrounds. We would all be participating on trips to acquaint our Jewish brethren from across the world with the State of Israel. The leader of the orientation asked us to answer a question by raise-of-hand, “do you feel more Jewish or Israeli?”
I felt it was a simple answer, myself being both secular and an oleh hadash, I felt more Jewish. My reasoning was that any Jew that claims the “right of return” becomes Israeli within a matter of a few bureaucratic steps on the grounds of being Jewish. Even if one makes the argument that being Israeli is a separate culture, I am proof that it is possible to integrate. And if I don’t fully integrate, then my future sabra children will.
I naively thought that most secular Jews in the State of Israel also reasoned the way I had. I peaked as I raised my hand to see who agreed with me. I was shocked when I was only one of two in the room who felt more Jewish than Israeli, the other person was religious wearing a knitted kipa on his head.
I didn’t understand how my fellow secular soldiers could feel that they are more Israeli than Jewish, because I moved to Israel to live in a Jewish state as Prime Minister Ben Gurion declared on May 14, 1948. He proclaimed the establishment of a Jewish State in Eretz-Israel, to be known as the State of Israel. He clearly established the identity and nature of the new nation as Jewish, Israel merely being its name.
For two thousand years the Jewish people eagerly yearned for a return to Zion. In the late nineteenth century, this yearning was capitalized and a political movement was led by secular Jews.
Secular Jews fought in the name of Zionism from the time that Herzl wrote Der Judenstaat until the establishment of the State of Israel, and thereafter. Countless lives of young and old secular Jews died in order to establish a Jewish state.
Yet today, just a few generations after Israel’s founding, my secular army peers are disconnected from the very Jewish movement that we once led.
What separates Israel from other liberal democracies that have inorganic melting pot identities like Canada or the United States? If Israel does not have an inherent Jewish identity, what will make secular Jews continue the yearn to live and fight for her for years to come?
Secular Jews must stop creating an artificial Israeli identity, because it will lead to the downfall of Israel. It is already beginning with the rising number of emigration to other western countries mostly for monetary reasons. With proper Zionistic values, no monetary sum can outweigh living in a Jewish state.
It is our job as secular Jewish citizens of the State of Israel to resuscitate Zionism for our future generations.
In the past, Zionism was the fight for the establishment of a Jewish state, which is far over. Today, Zionism’s struggle is finding the relevance to live in a Jewish state by remembering why the Jewish people fought to create a state, and why it is worth fighting for from here forward.
If Zionism’s struggle of today can be conquered it too can be used as a surrogate to ensure the State of Israel’s existence for eternity— just as it was used to create her.