Thoughts from an American Zionist

by Rabbi Daniel R. Allen

For centuries we have written our own personal versions of the Pesach Haggadah. We reflect different world views; different religious perspectives, all the while focusing on the retelling of our great liberation from slavery to the freedom of our own sovereignty in the distance.

As American Jews we often struggle with the ideas of Zionism and Israel precisely because we live in a great, open, generally welcoming society. We are part of America and so the idea that we can be active participants in the greatest national project of our people in the past 2,000 years sometimes does not resonate loudly for us. Passover, recalling the first Zionist enterprise, gives us an opportunity to reflect on these ideas. We traditionally read about the four sons. In our Seder we also read the four daughters and about four kinds of Jews.

The first is the Responsible Jew. On April 1, 1933, the Jewish Review of Berlin, a Zionist newspaper, editorialized concerning what the Jewish response should be to the new Nazi law that all Jews were required to wear a yellow star;

“The answer must be clear. It must be that briefest of sentences Moses spoke to the Egyptians: Ivri Anochi, I am a Jew.”

Daniel Pearl, a journalist captured by Al Qaeda, spoke the same words before being beheaded in February 2002.

The second in our list is the Irresponsible Jew. This Jew thinks that assimilating to be “just a human being” will make him or her more of a person.

“To the degree that a Jew destroys the natural Jewish foundation in one’s soul, you become less of a person and less of a Jew.”

The Foolish Jew is third.

“Rabbi Hanoch of Alexandria said; “The real exile of Israel in Egypt was that they learned to endure it.” Our sages added; “Not only was it necessary to take the Jews out of Egypt it was also necessary to take Egypt out of the Jews.”

The fourth type is the Jew who is indifferent to our people and to the Zionist narrative of building an ever more inclusive democratic Israeli society. We remind that Jew in the words of Chaim Weitzman, the first President of Israel:

“A nation does not receive a state on a silver platter.”

Next Monday night we will retell the story of our exodus from slavery to freedom. We will recount 10 miracles performed by God, the ultimate Zionist, who enabled our liberation. At the same time we will take a drop of wine out of our full cups ten times to remind us that what for us was a miracle for others was a plague. Zionism is conscious that taking back Jewish destiny into Jewish hands is the correct, moral, and ethical action of our people. At the same time we acknowledge that there are risks and consequences as part of our liberation just as there were at the time of our Exodus.

At the end of the Seder we are reminded that our goal has always been Next Year In Jerusalem. In today’s internal Jewish communal debates about Israel, played out on the pages of the NYTimes, on college campuses, in the Jewish press, and perhaps at your Seder, people seem to forget our efforts are not about winning the debate. Rather our focus should be on building strong and lasting relationships with Israel and Israelis.

I suggest that this year we change the last line of the Hagaddah to This Year In Jerusalem. Make a pledge around your Seder table that this is the year you are going to visit the family at home. Tell your Rabbi that you will go on the congregational trip and if there is not one scheduled, volunteer to work to make a trip possible.

When you visit you will see many miracles. You will meet Jews just like you and Jews who are different than you. You will encounter Jews who agree with you politically and those who disagree with your views. You will be able to pray, play, and participate with Jews from the four corners of the world. Israel is now the single largest Jewish community in the world. You will see the beauty of the people and the land. You will also see the challenges that still lie ahead. Israel, like all democratic states, is permanently in the state of becoming. And on hundreds of street corners you will read the Zionist sign of progress at construction sites; Danger- here we are building. It is both literally and figuratively true.

Pesach allows us to re-enact our first steps as a people into freedom marching toward our land. This year, take your own steps to the land, whether for the first time or the tenth time. Be a responsible Jew, loudly declare Ivri Anochi, I am a Jew – This Year In Jerusalem.

Rabbi Daniel R. Allen is the Executive Director of ARZA.

This article was originally published in the Union for Reform Judaism’s 10 Minutes of Torah and is reprinted with permission.