Reclaiming Zionism

This piece has been brewing for years. It is not a reaction to the well-organized Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions effort that in 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013 struck the Bay Area (my hometown of Berkeley in particular). It is a processing of my experiences over the last five years as a Rabbi, a Jew, and a Zionist in the Bay Area.

The Zionism I embrace is Theodor Herzl's two-fold vision: 1) securing international legitimacy for the right of the Jewish people to a state of our own, and 2) actually building our national home. This mission remains incomplete, and it is both everyone's and no one's fault. "Hawks" delegitimize internal critics. "Lefties" denounce rightist campaigns. Both distract the Jewish people from the greatest project in our collective history: The State of Israel.

How can a Jew today feel (as do more than half of Jews under 35 in a 2010 study by Ari Kelman and Steven M. Cohen) that they would not view the destruction of Israel as a personal tragedy? Has half of our Jewish family forgotten the necessity of a home? Do we believe that "the wandering Jew" is a story of the past? I wish from my heart of hearts that this were true. It's not true yet. And though the day might come, please God, when we can turn our Nuclear Submarines into underwater ploughshares, for now we need those shields. And while we are called to try not to use them, we are also called to have them at the ready.

Just 16 months ago, the Fogel family was massacred in their own home. Udi (36) Ruth (35) Fogel and their children Yoav (11) Elad (4), and three-month-old Hadas, may their memories be a blessing, were murdered by a terrorist. They lived in a settlement called Itamar in the West Bank. There are Jews who compare their Israeli activist commitments with the motivation of the terrorist. It is an absurd comparison which comes along comments like "we have to question whether we should be mourning the death of the crazy uncle who is making things worse." The Fogels were people I would have argued with until I was red in the face (and then some). But emphatic, fundamental disagreement is different from murder, and I weep and mourn for my lost sisters and brothers, no matter the deep differences with which we would have struggled together in life.

I am a liberal Zionist. That means I support the work of the New Israel Fund ("Say Yes to a Better Israel") and AIPAC ("Ensuring Israel's Security"). It means that, when I do criticize Israeli policies, I do so with a cautious and conflicted heart because I am talking about my home and about my family. It means that I sing the Hatikvah with tears in my eyes as I pray that "we have not yet lost hope, a hope of 2,000 years, to be a free People in our land."

There are those who suggest that our traumatic family history has rendered us unable to make ethical decisions. I disagree with this interpretation, but hear it as as a challenge to every side of the Jewish Israel conversation. Can we embrace the numerous challenges Israel faces on behalf of the Global Jewish People, knowing that our disagreements are part of Zionism in-progress? Said simply, is it possible for Jews who disagree to see each other as partners in building our people's home? This must be, I believe, based on "hawks" allowing for the dissent upon which democracy is built, and it must be based upon "critics" recognizing that their credibility must be based on explicit support for the State of Israel.

I am reminded of the teaching of Reb Nachman of Breslov, perhaps itself the ancestor of Herzl's vision: "If you believe you can harm, then believe you can heal."