by Rachel 7

"100 Years of Zionism" has been a misnomer for the last 100 years. Zionism is a national movement of at least 2,500 years, at least since the Babylonian exile in 586 BCE. Its goal is the re­establishment of the Jewish people's national sovereignty on their land, the Land of Israel, and the reconstituting of their lives within the framework of their national heritage and culture.

The Jewish people actively pursued Zionism throughout all the past 25 centuries. They did so in several different ways. One way was by means of armed uprisings against foreign occupiers and their various religious and cultural oppressions. Another way was by clinging steadfastly to their land, even after the destruction of the second Temple. As a matter of fact, the phrase "returning after 2,000 years" is, at best, mistaken and misleading, since throughout all those years, when many Jews were indeed in Galut, there was always a vibrant, creative Jewish community present in their own land.

The better known vehicle of active Zionism, however, was the constant, unceasing aliyah­­the physical returning of Jews home. There was not one century in all these years­­until this very day­­without Jewish aliyah. The latest, misleading phrase about "100 years of Zionism" was created partly out of ignorance, but also with intended misinformation. The aim is to dwarf Zionism into a recent, modern movement alone, and cut it down to size and time­frame comparable to the so­called "gradual Palestinian national awakening."

Actually the last hundred years of Zionist movements is just another integral link in the 2500 year­long, unbroken chain of Zionism. One can talk about the 100 years of Modern Political Zionism, or Herzlian or Ahad Ha'amian Zionisms, of Socialist Zionism, and so on. But one cannot, and should not, talk in all honesty about "100 years of Zionism" alone.

The 19th century was filled with Zionist activity. And this was before Herzl and before Bilu and before the so­called "First Aliyah." There were the Hovevei Tsion­­Lovers of Zion­­who supported Jewish settlement in Israel; there were Rabbis, like Kalischer, Mohilever, and Alkalai, who called for, and worked for, the settlement of Jews in Israel; there was aliyah of Chassidim and Mitnagdim, and just many private, simple Jews who went with their families to settle in Israel, because of their age­old Zionist yearnings. There were also those in Israel, who left Jerusalem to start new settlements like Petah Tikva, or those Jews who founded Nes Tsiona, Rishon L'tsion, and other settlements.

The 19th century was also the century of Haskalah­­the Jewish Enlightenment­­which, while letting secular knowledge into the closed Jewish communities, also opened the way to assimilation and abandonment of the Jewish heritage by the younger generation. Many of the young eventually found their way into Socialist and Communist movements, hoping to help build a better and more just and tolerant world, and of course hoping to be accepted as equals in these progressive movements.

Reality disappointed them and kicked them in the face..all too often. Their progressive comrades still saw them as "zhids" and still participated in pogroms against the Jews. These young Jews, however, were so desperate to be accepted and to belong, that they were willing to close their eyes and excuse any insult, any indignity, any pogrom. So much so that some even said: "Never mind the pogroms. The Jewish blood will be the grease on the axles of the revolution." When things got worse, some of these young Jews turned to Zionism to find a land of their own in which they could establish the great messianic dreams of Socialism and Communism. This was the beginning of Socialist Zionism, which actually developed at the turn of the century and hitched onto the Political Zionism of Herzl. The major wave of this Socialist Aliyah constituted the so­called "Second Aliyah." (It seems strange to speak of a "First Aliyah" or a "Second Aliyah" in the 19th and 20th centuries, if you consider that Zionism's actual First Aliyah was the return of the Jews from Babylon.)

Many of those who came in this group of Socialist Zionists still had the solid foundation of Jewish heritage, which they received at home, despite their rebellion against it and rejection of it. Yet their ideology was that of a secular Socialism and Communism, in which they believed with a perfect faith... It was this ideology­­and not their Jewish heritage­­which served as the foundation for their resettling the Land of Israel, and it was this ideology which they transmitted to their next generations. Even the regular public schools, among whose teachers were many members of the Socialist movements, were not considered pure enough for the indoctrination of the young generation, and so a special network of "workers' party" schools was established. The results came all too swiftly, and today we are reaping the whirlwind.

We have Israelis who are totally disconnected from their Jewish heritage, and even from the rest of their people. Israelis who, while speaking the Hebrew language, are as assimilated as any assimilated Jews anywhere else in the world. To these assimilated Israelis­­Zionism is dead. We have Israelis, among them Member of Knesset Yossi Beilin, one of the chief architects of the Oslo process, who proudly announces that he would not mind if his child married a non­Jew. To him, the future of the Jewish people, as a unique people, does not matter, and thus for him and others like him­­Zionism is dead.

We have Israelis, like the Polish immigrant Shimon Peres who, as Foreign Minister of the State of Israel, said to another Israeli­­also an olah ­­"go back to where you came from!" Apparently to him, as to others of his ilk­­Zionism is dead. We have Israelis, such as the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who talks about the Land of Israel as "a piece of real estate." To him, and others like minded, Zionism must be dead. The sad thing is that, most likely, true Zionism was never really alive for them. Because to them, having a state, and a government, and any land of any size, is the end of their Zionist dream.

They are left searching for new content and meaning in life. And so, on the one hand, they clutch at materialism as a new goal, and dream of Israel becoming the "Singapore of the Middle East." On the other hand, in the good old tradition of assimilated, pseudo­liberalism, they try to prove to the world how good and deserving they are, by fighting for any real or apparent underdog, and being ready to sacrifice, sell­out, and attack their own people, in ways which would put the worst anti­Semites to shame.

Presently in Israel there are a split people. There are those for whom Zionism is still very much a living, vibrant reality, just as it has been for our people throughout the millenia. And there are those who desperately strive to assimilate into an imaginary "new Middle East" and/or into a cheap imitation of American Western culture. They fight with vigor to turn Israel into a secular, non­Jewish state (and I am not speaking here of "Orthodoxy, "but of heritage, culture, andidentity), hoping that by doing so they will find favor in the eyes of the Arabs and the other nations of the world. Having lost and given up on their Jewish pride and identity, they cannot function within the family of nations as Jews. They therefore attempt to "pass" by inventing a watered­down, pareve, neutral identity as "Israelis," and in the process they cut off their noses to spite their race...

Although it may too­often seem otherwise, the fact is that this segment of Israeli society is definitely not a majority. But over the years they have taken control­­one way or another­­of the media and of various key positions in the country. They have the gift of gab, and unceasing propaganda is their major method of distorting the true reality of the Jewish state. Besides deligitimitizing any population that is either Jewish­religious or Jewish­patriotic, they succeeded in imposing fear and a sense of intimidation on anyone who dares to express a differing opinion from theirs.

Zionism must fight not only external threats, but perhaps even more serious threats from within. There is a concerted effort to divest Israel of its Jewish identity. Amos Oz and other like­minded intellectuals speak openly about preferring a State of Jews rather than a Jewish State.

Just how bad is it? How low have we sunk? There have been many stories regarding the incidents that occurred after the murder of Yitzhak Rabin, involving left­wing incitement and action against anything and everything Jewish, and anyone obviously Jewish­looking. People were beaten because they wore a kippah; children were removed from buses because they were too clearly Jewish. The epitome of this sick behavior, however, was an incident in which an Israeli soldier aimed his loaded rifle at the head of a Jewish child wearing a kippah. What resulted was a horrified secular woman ran to place herself between the gun and the child. This is not Zionism! This is not the fulfillment of any Zionist dream! It conjures up much more readily a picture of another kind of soldier, pointing a rifle at a Jewish child, in a Polish ghetto. Yet it is precisely because of this that Zionism in Israel has a future. It has a future because, in its present form, Israel is still a dream in the making. It has a future because it has not yet reached its goal!

When in the State of Israel, Jews­­obvious Jews, men with kippot, beards, and sidelocks, and women wearing kerchiefs and long skirts­­when Jews are hated, ridiculed, harassed, and physically attacked, like Jews were treated in other countries­­the goal of Zionism is not yet accomplished!

When during some of the ghastliest terrorist bus bombings, a Member of Knesset reassures Arafat that the process will continue, no matter what, and states on the radio to the nation that "We need to remember, however, that the enemy is the right wing..."­­the goal of Zionism is not yet accomplished!

When the land of our Fathers is treated as real estate, and traded for something worth even less than the trinkets given to the Indians for Manhattan Island­­the goal of Zionism is not yet accomplished!

When concerted efforts are made to obfuscate, to distort, and to erase Jewish culture, Jewish heritage, and Jewish tradition in the Jewish State, in its schools, in its media, in its daily cultural life­­the goal of Zionism is not yet accomplished!

When Israelis are more concerned with becoming cheap European and American "wannabes" rather than absorbing and continuing their own, unique, age­old culture and identity, like every self­respecting nation­­the goal of Zionism is not yet accomplished!

When assimilation is as bad as, or worse, than in any Jewish community in the Diaspora, and it now becomes easy to fully understand that "it may be easier to take the Jew out of the Galut, than to take the Galut out of the Jew...," when this is so, it is clear that the goal of Zionism is not yet accomplished!

Zionism is the future of Israel! Zionism is the future of Israel because only in Israel can the Zionist dream be realized! Zionism is the future of Israel because when it is realized, the People of Israel will be a strong, proud, unique nation, fully ensconced in its heritage and building upon it its own, unique life among the nations of the world.

Zionism is the future of Israel because, to paraphrase an old saying "More than the Jews kept Zionism going, Zionism kept the Jews going!" Zionism is the future of Israel because for millenia Jews took this on faith, and this faith was all they had to sustain them through the worst and longest of exiles. We are fortunate enough to be alive at a time in our history when a portion of the dream has taken a concrete form: there is technically an independent State of Jews in Israel. We cannot, we must not, lose our capacity to continue to also keep faith with the rest of the dream!

Zionism is the future of Israel because to all those of little faith, who wrongly believe that Zionism can die or vanish on their say­so, an answer was given a hundred years ago: David Wolfsohn, Herzl's close friend and right hand, spoke at a Zionist banquet. An anti­Zionist heckler called out: "All your Zionism hangs by Herzl's beard. If you shave off his beard, there goes your Zionism." To which Wolfsohn smiled and said: "You are mistaken, sir. For just as with the beard, Zionism will immediately start growing again!"

And Zionism is the future of Israel because, while it is a national dream and a national endeavor, more than anything else, Zionism is nurtured by the single Jew. The poet Naftali Hertz Imber intuitively sensed this when he wrote in the last line of Hatikvah: "Ki rak im achron ha­yehudi, gam achrit tikvatenu"­­for as long as there is a single Jew left, our hope will never end!" And there are many more than a single Jew left. A­M­E­N

All those who are part of the Zionist dream and part of the Zionist effort will also be part of the Zionist future. The others, those who assimilate, those who desert, those who distort and dismiss Zionism, will fall off naturally, along the way.

Therefore the question is not whether Zionism has a future. It does! The question is only which Jews will share that future.


Rachel 7 is the screen name for the dedicated Zionist who heads the Middle East Political Forum on AOL.

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