By Karen Rubinstein
For close to 35 years, I have had the opportunity to serve as the head of the American Zionist Movement. While the movement known as modern Zionism has been in place for well over a century, I believe we can all agree that the past thirty years have been a time to finally appreciate the sheer success of this movement. In Israel’s early years, the nation’s very existence was a huge question mark and for decades we were never quite sure whether the next attack from our enemies would be the fatal blow that would end our dream. In many ways that insecurity lasted into this modern period when not only was Israel able to survive, but the Jewish State began to truly thrive.
The historic messages of turning the desert into farmland became more and more of a reality. The skyscrapers of Tel Aviv seemed to grow closer to the heavens by the day. Transportation and infrastructure was modernized and Israel finally became the Western country we all believed it could be.
Throughout this period, those of us in the Diaspora looked on at Israel with wonder and amazement but we always recognized that there was some degree of detachment because simply put – we were not there. My goal as the head of the American Zionist Movement was to change that perception. In many ways, at least in ideology if not in practice, I worked to return Zionism to its roots. In this approach, I believe that the Diaspora must have a central voice in positively impacting the future of the State of Israel because Israel was and always must remain the home of the Jewish people.
For as many as possible it is their physical home but for millions of others, we still find an ideological and spiritual base between Metula and Eilat. This reality is strengthened by the fact that many of the Zionists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries never were able to make their way to the shores of the Mediterranean, yet their influence in shaping public opinion and inspiring others to make aliya was not less important.
I recognize that a century later so much has changed. Coming home can mean hopping on a trans-Atlantic flight and being in Tel Aviv in just a matter of hours. The Internet and social media allows us to be intimately connected to nearly every development – positive and negative – that goes on in Israel.
But the very essence of Zionism has not changed. In my mind, the essence of Zionism is that every Jew regardless of where he or she finds themselves should work to secure the continued development of the Jewish state.
This year, and in these very weeks, every Jew aged 18 or older has that very chance by voting for the next slate of the World Jewish Congress. By simply registering and voting online, Diaspora Jewry can ensure that we too continue to have a say in the future of Zionism and the Jewish people.
No matter what slate or organization you vote for or with, our combined voice can and will make a difference towards a more secure, democratic and prosperous Jewish state. Because it is no longer just Herzl’s dream – it is our future.
Karen Rubinstein is Executive Director of American Zionist Movement.Throughout the years her goal has been to find relevant ways to engage the American public with Israel, particularly in ways that supersede the political and ideological divides that often dominate the Israeli conversation.