Is Zionism Dead?

5 Jan

Is Zionism dead?

What is Zionism about today, 61 years into this great endeavor called the State of Israel?

Last week our youngest son came home from school with an assignment to create a project memorializing members of the Jewish underground who had been captured by the British during the British mandate and hanged for their actions.  They are referred t in Hebrew as the Olei HaGardom. This project, specifically directed to 8th and 9th graders, was the idea of the Minister of Education, Gidon Sa’ar.  He claims that he is looking for ways to bring a sense of pride to the youth of Israel, pride in their history in and in those who, through their lives and deaths, brought the State of Israel into being.  In a letter announcing the new program, Sa’ar wrote, “I hope the program, recounting Olei Hagardom’s devotion to the struggle for Israel’s independence, will bolster the students’ ties with their people and heritage … and that their devotion will serve as an ideological model for our youth.”

I do agree that it  is important for our children  to understand the sacrifices  that were made by  individuals in order to give  us the opportunity to do  what it is we are doing –  living in the modern State of  Israel in the 21st century.  This is a privilege that no  one should take for granted.

However, I wonder about  the effectiveness of this  approach  in successfully providing  them with a sorely needed  relevant ideological model.

In other words, these martyrs were making sacrifices to bring about the fulfillment of a dream, coming out of the darkness of persecution, out of the death camps, cast aside by the world, in search of new beginning.  They lived and died for the realization of a dream that we are now living – the recreation of a Jewish State.

If we want to impart an ideology to our youth, it cannot be done by merely re-exploring the past – an ideology needs a future,  a set of objectives and lofty goals for which to strive.

Zionism is not dead.  It is, rather, in need of being redefined. The mission of the Jewish People today is not the same mission of 100 years ago.

Let me explain by way of reference to this week’s Torah portion.

Moses was appointed by God to be the redeemer of the people, which meant taking them out of Egypt and leading them to the Promised Land. His first encounter with Pharaoh, at which time he announced God’s intentions, did not go well.  It resulted in the withholding of building materials from the Israelites and the quick deterioration of their already miserable condition and overall morale.

When the Israelite foremen found out what was going on, they confronted Moses and Aaron saying, ” Let God look at you and be your judge. You have destroyed our reputation with Pharaoh and his advisors. You have placed a sword to kill us in their hands.

Moses then returned to God with a bold accusation – “O Lord, why do you mistreat your people?” (Exodus 5:21-22)

I suggest that this was a case of non-aligned missions.

The Israelite foremen reacted as they did since they were not aware or sold on the mission.  The covenant with Abraham and the promise of a homeland had been forgotten long ago (or at the very last, put on the back burner).  The people had been in survival mode for generations, and any leader who would come forth and add to their acute discomfort was not welcome.

Their national mission was to defend themselves and survive.  They no longer knew how to be idealists. Moses had not taken this reality into account, and had no words to adequately respond to the serious accusations.

Theodore Herzl’s  monumental exposition, The Jewish State, written in 1896, made people think, gave them something to dream about once again.  In his preface to the treatise he wrote:

I am profoundly convinced that I am right; I do not know whether I shall be proved right in my lifetime.  The men who inaugurate this movement will hardly live to see its glorious conclusion.  But the very inauguration will bring a lofty pride and the happiness of inner freedom into their lives.

Some embraced his words and visions – others chastised his naivety.  Those who chastised no doubt considered themselves the “foremen” of their generation – looking out for what was best for the people.  They too had long ago forgotten the many promises of the ultimate return to Zion that had once ago flowed from the lips of Israel’s ancient prophets.

Today, in some ways we are back to the pre-State situation.  The State of Israel and its inhabitants find ourselves in survival mode.  Not only are we fending off our enemies, but we are under extreme pressure from our best friends – pressure that is ripping the away at the fragile fabric that holds this society together.

It seems to this Israeli citizen that what we need most today is a new vision.

It is not enough to go back and borrow the visions of those who paved the way for our independent statehood. Such nostalgia provides us with good feelings, but it is short-lived without long-term benefit.

What is Zionism about today?

Herzl concluded his essay The Jewish State with words that I believe point us in the direction of that new vision, the new vision that we must place before ourselves and our children at this time:

The world will be freed by our freedom, enriched by our riches, and made greater by our greatness.

And whatever we attempt there only for our own welfare will spread and redound mightily and blessedly to the good of all mankind.

God’s original promise to Abraham was that not only would his descendants inherit the land and inhabit it in great numbers, but through their dwelling here, they would bring “blessing to all of the families of the land.”

It is time for Israel and the Jewish People to look outwards and identify the many places that we as a people and as a country can better the lives of humankind worldwide.

This is a vision that we have yet to develop, an objective that lies before us.  Zionism was NOT only about establishing a Jewish homeland, it was about doing so for the purpose of ultimately becoming a light to the nations.

This is our calling as a people, this must become our mission as a country.

Please share with me your thoughts?  Let’s begin to once again dream together.


9 Responses to “Is Zionism Dead?”

  1. Henri Wednesday, January 6, 2010 at 7:25 pm #

    This is, I believe, one of Danny Gordis’ main points in his last book, Saving Israel, which was published early in 2009. He asks, “Would it matter to you, the reader, if the State of Israel no longer existed?” He states that a Holocaust-based point of view is no longer a sufficient rationale for a yes answer. In our congregation we tried to organize a discussion group around Gordis’ message, but had little response. He’ll be in town for an AIPAC Forum later this month, and we plan to try again after his appearance. Envisioning a 21st Century Zionism is, to me, a critical need for diaspora Jews (as well as Israeli Jews!).

    • ravmorey Sunday, January 10, 2010 at 9:43 am #

      I heard Danny Gordis speak last night here in Jerusalem at teh Great Synagogue and appreciated very much what he had to day. His point is that we offer the world a counter to the general phenomenon of globalization which is watering down and erasing all signs of cultural differences. Our belief in maintaining our uniqueness is in a sense counter-cultural to the direction that that the rest of the world is going, and so our maintenance of uniqueness is a statement to the world that erasing differences is bad for the world, and is not what God desires of us. We can all learn much more about ourselves and the world we live in if we are privileged to see the world and our lives from multiple perspectives. The world is therefore today annoyed with out resounding rejection of homogeneity, and so uses every opportunity it can to help make us “go away.”

      However, I want to take it a step further and suggest that it is not enough for us to set as our mission to maintain our uniqueness as a model unto the world of the value of that distinction. I believe that it is that distinction which demands that we do business differently, that we set goals differently, and that we prioritize in a new way. Our distinction is to be maintained in order to allow us to step back and identify where our blessings can be extended to bring blessing to the world – not only as individuals, but as a central component of our national agenda – for that, I believe, is the true purpose of our choseness.

  2. Amy Kenigsberg Wednesday, January 6, 2010 at 10:58 pm #


    While I was one of your students in the United States, your comments would have been interesting but not especially relevant to my life as an American Jew for whom Zionism was something celebrated from a distance.

    As an Israeli for almost 7 years (wow!), I agree fully that we need to redefine Zionism and work collectively toward a goal that is beyond just day-to-day survival. My our leaders – secular and religious – hear you!

    (I RARELY comment on blogs, etc., so please be aware of how much impact your posting had on me.)

    • ravmorey Sunday, January 10, 2010 at 9:29 am #


      Let’s not wait around for our leaders…..that doesn’t seem to be the best working model these days. We do not need a messiah to make this happen, just a paradigm shift by all of those who are in a position to make a difference in the world – let each of us realize that the blessing of the State of Israel did not end with its giving refuge to Jews being oppressed or those looking for a more complete Jewish life – that was just the beginning of the redemption….it is now in our hands to decide to take the next steps.

  3. Carol Anderson Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 1:00 am #

    I am thrilled by your vision. It is what I have long believed to be the proper role of the US (rather than trying to control other countries). Israel should truly be a special place fulfilling the Abrahamic promise to be a blessing.
    As for heroes of the independence movement, many were viewed by the British as terrorists, and it could be argued that those we call terrorists today are not unsimilar to our heroic freedom fighters then. I.e. we’d best not risk perpetuating a focus on acts of resistence and violence.

  4. Eva Robey Friday, January 8, 2010 at 8:59 am #

    When you say that the purpose of Zionism is ultimately to become a light unto the nations, do you mean the people of Israel, World Jewry, or just Zionists?
    When we talk about being a light unto the nations that must be G-d’s light. I agree, so what we must do to achieve that is to be G-d centred but I don’t think many Zionists would agree.

    • ravmorey Sunday, January 10, 2010 at 9:22 am #


      I am speaking of the role and the ultimate destiny of the Jewish people – to bring blessing to the world at large. For this specific purpose, the nation was chosen and promised a homeland. The God-centeredness is important, for therein lies the whole basis for the calling. I believe that the Zionists who do not see God at the center of this enterprise are suffering from a lot of current and historical political baggage that has linked religion with political parties and faith with strict halakhic observance. The un-linking of these could pave the road toward more by-in nationwide as well as rekindling confidence that the sacrifices heretofore have not been without purpose.

  5. Larry Sunday, January 10, 2010 at 10:57 pm #

    According to the Tanach, God said “I will make you a great nation,” and that we should be “a light unto the nations.” Measure this against the situation we find ourselves in today.

    We have a government that grovels before foreign leaders, that allows others to violate our sovereignty and dictate to us. Gone are leaders like Begin who retorted to Reagan “Mr. President, Israel is not a banana republic,” or Shamir who clearly stated “I will do nothing against the security interests of my country.”

    Now, we have Bibi, who allows the French president to criticize and insult our choice of Foreign Minister without response, and allows the American president to give articulate speeches demanding our capitulation without forceful rebuttal.

    We all know some genes can skip a generation. This is apparently true of the Zionist gene as well. For those of us who chose to be here, who had Zionism burning at the core of our being, this is disheartening. Israel is fast becoming a failed state. The first responsibility of a government is to protect its people. Our government turns on its people (witness the article in the JPost today about the Gush Katif evacuees who remain uncompensated four years later), and leaves us unprotected as time goes by until self-proclaimed enemy states like Iran are at work on its second and third reactors (we know Begin’s record on this topic).


  1. Resources for Exodus 5:21 - 22 - Tuesday, February 28, 2012

    […] 1Is Zionism Dead? « Tuesdays with Morey SUBMIT […]

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