Mercaz/WLCJ Essay Contest

Rethinking Zionism ~ What Does Zionism Mean to Me?
MERCAZ-Canada, MERCAZ USA and Women's League for Conservative Judaism offer a biennial essay contest.

2nd Prize: Genna Wolinsky, Congregation Beth Emeth, Herndon, VA

What Does Zionism Mean to Me?

I’m not a very spiritual person. Sure, I know all of my prayers and chant them at services, but the spiritual aspect of Judaism is not as important to me as other aspects of the religion. More central to me is of course the food, as well as the sense of community between us as a people, and Israel.

Now, I’ve always seen Israel in two different ways. The way it was presented to me at Hebrew school was more focused on the historical roots of the small nation and less of what is occurring there now. The second way that I have viewed it is through the eyes of many people today, which is as a state that is oppressing the Palestinian people and refusing to allow their right of return. On Twitter and other social media platforms, very rarely do I see Israel viewed in the Zionistic way of being a state with a unique moral and spiritual character. In my experience, the majority of people perceive it negatively.

Take for instance my sophomore year of high school, where my mandatory summer assignment reading for World History was The Lemon Tree, written by Sandy Tolan. The book was about a house that was built by a Palestinian family, but after the Israeli War for Independence, they were forced to leave, and an Israeli family moved in. Years later, a boy from the Palestinian family came back to the house, and he and the Israeli girl living there struck up a friendship of sorts. In my class, the assignment was to decide whose house it rightfully was: the Palestinian’s or the Israeli’s. Most of the students believed that it was the Palestinian man’s, and they tended to view the Israelis as wrongly occupying the house. I was one of the few who argued that it was the Israeli girl’s. Not to say that the people who thought it was the Palestinian man’s were wrong, but the book easily allowed people to sympathize with the Palestinians.

It’s very possible that there is no right or wrong answer to the question. And it is perhaps true that as a Jew, I am biased to always take an Israeli position on issues. However, I feel that in society today there is a common misconception about Jews. Many people feel that Jews believe that Israel can do no wrong and view it as an all-righteous nation. I feel, rather, that not necessarily do Jews always defend everything that Israel does, but we do always defend its right to exist.

I fully acknowledge that there are shortcomings within the state of Israel, and plenty of them. However, I do not believe that these shortcomings allow for the right of existence to be questioned. Plenty of countries do terrible things, but when they do so, no other country declares that they should not exist. Only for Israel does this continue to be an issue, and that is one of the reasons why Zionism is such a passionate concept which Jews hold dearly, because we are still at times uncertain of the future of the one place which we can call our own state. Even for someone who has never been there, a Jew can still feel a special connection to Israel like with no other location. That is something that I feel, that my mother feels, and all of the generations before her. Zionism is a cause that continues to be fought for among all of the branches of the family tree. My grandma’s generation was the first that saw the state come into official recognition, and her peers fought to keep it intact. My mother’s generation saw the Intifada, and again fought for the survival of our nation. My generation sees the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and again is fighting for the survival of the country, whether itbe on the college campuses with the BDS movement, or in our own hometowns. While the individual battles may change among the generations, the root of Zionism remains the same.

This root being that the Jewish people have a right to create their own state in EretzYisrael and use this state as a model for democracy and morality around the globe. Some people believe that the root of Zionism also calls for the mass movement of the world’s Jewry into Israel. And while it does call for the settlement of Jews there, and does provide a refuge for all Jews, I don’t believe that there has to be a great movement of Jews into Israel in order to fulfill the Zionistic vision. There are countless benefits to having Jews living outside of Israel: so that we can educate others around the globe, so that we can display our achievements, and so that we can demonstrate our unique culture while fostering diversity.

In addition, while Israel is first and foremost a Jewish state, the other cultures that call Israel a home also contribute to its standing as an exemplary society with a unique moral and spiritual character. Zionism does not call for all of the world’s Jews to move to Israel, but rather for all of the world’s Jews to educate each other about and appreciate Israel. So, in short, Zionism to me means a physical connection to my religion, of which the spiritual aspects aren’t as significant. It means fighting for the cause that my ancestors fought for, and died for. It means being determined to seek the truth about Israel to protect its reputation from being tarnished in the media and society.

And above all else, it means ensuring that our nation will continue to exist in the future.