by Rabbi Daniel R. Allen
Israel and Zionism should be at the core of our Passover observance. The Exodus from Egypt had a goal not just of freedom for the Jewish People but a return to our own land, our own sovereignty, and our own Jewish ways of living. We are required to make the story meaningful for every generation; hence we should be asking four important questions about Israel and considering four kinds of Zionists.
Four Zionist questions for the Seder
All countries have governments, borders, neighbors, culture, language(s), economies, their own internal politics, and legitimacy within the family of nations. Why is Israel the only country whose legitimacy as a sovereign state is challenged in so many ways by so many people?
On all other nights we may think of places all around the world we would like to visit. Why on this night do we say only “Next Year in Jerusalem?”
On all other nights we may consider the advantages or challenges of the country of our citizenship. Why on this night do we consider what makes Israel different from all other countries?
Most countries and societies need and welcome the voluntary sector in order to achieve their declared dreams. Israel’s Declarations of Independence challenges us all to “ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants 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,” as well as to make peace with her neighbors. Why, on this night, are we not working more diligently to assist Israel in achieving its stated goals of equality for all her citizens, to build a more inclusive democratic society and peace with all her neighbors?
Questions are answered by individuals with a point of view and a particular perspective. Questions about Israel are often answered by four kinds of Zionists.
Four Zionists for the Seder
The activitist Zionist, what does he/she say in response to these questions?
He/she first analyzes the questions, thinks through all the historical perspectives, centers the answer based where one fits within Zionist ideology, and then decides on strategy and tactics including which organization is best equipped to handle the response. While all of this activity is important and needs to be supported, sometimes what is needed is a simple answer, one that is the essence of one’s being.
On April 1, 1933, the Jewish Review of Berlin, a Zionist newspaper, editorialized about what should be the response to the new Nazi law requiring Jews to wear a yellow star which was meant to mark Jews as illegitimate. “The Jewish (Zionist) answer must be that briefest of sentences Moses spoke to the Egyptian (when his legitimacy was challenged): Ivri Anochi. I am a Jew.” Wherever we fall on the broad Zionist spectrum, we are all Jews in the big tent of supporting Israel.
The disillusioned Zionist, what does she/he say?
Why is Israel really important anymore? She has not lived up to my dreams, to what I learned in summer camp, to the very ideals upon which the state was founded. I have worked for years and still Israel has so many problems, peace has not yet been achieved and I am tired of the struggle.
To this person you should answer from Pirkei Avot: “You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it (2:21).” In a brief 64 years Israel has brought home millions of Jews, created a vibrant country, defended itself from military and terrorist threats, and contributed positively to the world. Rededicate yourself to the Israel with the spirit of the summer movement for social change; “The people demand a just society”.
The nominal Zionist, the “Jew in the pew”, what does he/she say?
What’s all the fuss about? I live a comfortable Jewish life here in America and Israel does not really affect my life. Then you should remind this person that American attitudes toward Jews changed for the better after the 1967 Six-Day War when the world saw Jews who had reclaimed Jewish destiny in Jewish hands; that the technology for the cellphone they use was created in Israel; that Israel has painfully made peace with its two largest neighbors and is committed to a two-state solution: a Jewish State of Israel and a Palestinian state for the Palestinians living side by side in peace, which, when it happens, will further peace for everyone in the world; and that it is Israel that stands at the cutting edge of defending the West against terrorism and fanaticism.
The not-yet Zionist? The one who does not know about Israel, the success of the national liberation project of the Jewish people, the good that Israel has brought to the world, and the amazing story of a people repatriated, a land reclaimed and a language renewed? For this person you shall begin with the words of God to Abraham, “Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land (Israel) that I will show you and I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you… and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you.”
In answer to all the questions and in response to all the kinds of Zionists we are reminded of what Chaim Weitzmann, the first president of Israel, once said,
“A nation does not receive a state on a silver platter.”
Rabbi Daniel R. Allen is Executive Director of ARZA, The Reform Israel Fund.