For Jews, the holy day of Yom Kippur being celebrated this weekend is recognized as a time for introspection and reckoning. Both individually and collectively, it is the time of year where we strive to right the wrongs of the past 12 months and perhaps even summon the inner strength for a radical, positive change of direction.
In this spirit it may be appropriate for Jewish leaders and activists to take a step back, to pause and ponder the "State of the Jewish Union." The founding of the modern Israel 63 years ago was undoubtedly a crescendo in the modern day Jewish narrative, but how far have we really traveled from that point?
At the turn of the 19th century, European Jewish life was exceedingly difficult, social inequality was the norm, and pogroms, often government-inspired, were an ongoing brutal inevitability. Throughout this dire period Jews always clung to hope, seeking avenues for salvation. Socialist, Bundist and Zionist schools of thought were united in their raison d'etre: to find a path to easing Jewish suffering and preserving life and dignity. Even assimilationists had the same stated goals.
The great Jewish cause of the last century was proactive, goal-oriented, specific and positive in nature. Ultimately, Zionism prevailed as the ideology that delivered, and since the establishment of independent Jewish sovereignty in our time, Jews have been physically safer than for the previous 2,000 years.
The greatest Jewish causes of today, however, seem to have regressed, becoming reactionary and negative in tone. Mammoth organizations and many millions of philanthropic dollars are directed to fighting against anti-Semitism and the de-legitimization of the State of Israel. But what are we fighting for?
Now that the goals of Zionism have been "achieved," have we as a people lost our aspirational edge? The tragedy of this predicament is not only that we are not moving forward, but that we are losing the power engendered by a clear vision to rise above the day to day grit and gallop toward our stated destination. As Nietzsche famously said, "He who has a why can endure any how." Additionally the success of "positive campaigning" has been well documented.
Perhaps this Yom Kippur as we turn inward, we should consider the need to re-chart our national course, beginning by acknowledging that, in truth, the goals of Zionism have not been fully achieved.
The World English Dictionary defines Zionism as "a policy or movement for Jews to return to Palestine from the Diaspora." The incorrect implication is that Zionism is an "end" in and of itself, whereas in actuality Zionism was founded as a means to achieve a solution to the "Jewish Problem." As expressed by Zionist leader Ahad Ha'am, the purpose of the movement is to end "the material trouble" that Jews have suffered since the second Jewish exile from Israel in 70 A.D.
It is for this reason that Theodor Herzl and other Zionist leaders entertained the possibility of establishing Uganda as a Jewish State, settling out of desperation to bypass the ancient Jewish homeland in the hope of providing an alternative to the life of persecution in Europe.
In this respect, the goal of Zionism lives on. It is true that Jews are materially better off now than before, but as long as there is one Jewish community in any corner of the world that lives in insecurity and fear, the "Jewish Problem" has not been resolved. As long as Jews in Israel are routinely slaughtered by their neighbors simply for the crime of being Jewish, as long as "Zionism equals racism" is an accepted equation, there is a systematic denial of the Jewish right to material safety and security.
As we begin the New Year, perhaps renewed focus is called for in this regard. The strength of Israel and the Jewish people as a means to the preservation of life is what we are fighting for. This can be applied through the implementation of strategies and methodology for example, to address the modern day physical threats to Jews around the world, creating contemporary relevance for the core message of Zionism.
This must be our primary, ongoing, collective and national objective. In all dealings the first question to be asked is, "Will this leave us physically safer?"