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Zionism 3.0: Reclaiming Zionism After October 7©

Take a moment and think about all the various definitions of Zionism and who could be a Zionist.

‘Insiders’, those of us who have a more historical perspective, know that there are various different types of Zionism, a whole spectrum from extreme left to extreme right., but it’s general definition is the national movement for the return of the Jewish people to their homeland and the resumption of Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel. There is a lot of 

The problem is, what happens when we let others define Zionism? 

In our case, it is the people on the right and the left. Those who say that Zionism = racism. Zionism is Jewish fascism. Zionism is settler-colonialism. 

UN resolution 3379 defined Zionism as a form of racism & a threat to world peace. In an increasing number of places, Zionism has become a bad word. 

So where do we go from here?

I wanted to take a step back and talk about Zionism, a brief history, by using my life as an example. 

These are the experiences of Israel that someone my age has experienced. From the tumultuous times of the Second Lebanon War in 1982, described as Israel’s Vietnam, and the First Intifada, when the right ceded power to the left and the nation embarked on a hopeful journey towards peace, led by figures like Rabin, Perez, Clinton, and Arafat through the Oslo Accords. Optimism was shattered by the assassination of Rabin by a Jewish extremist, the outbreak of the Second Intifada led by Palestinian terrorists, marked by waves of suicide bombings, leading to a period of separation, terrorism, the disengagement with Gaza followed by rocket attacks and periodic conflicts with Hamas culminating with the October 7th and the Israel-Gaza War. 

To many who lived through these experiences, Israel is Goliath, and it gets even worse if you were born after Oslo. In this scenario, Hamas is David, and Israel is Goliath. That’s the narrative of so many in this new generation. 

But our hope is not yet lost. It is up to us to Reclaim Zionism - to think about what happens after the war, to prepare for Zionism 3.0 because just as Zionism and Israel is going to change and be a different country after October 7, so too will American Jewry, whether we like it or not. 

To do so, we must embrace tension. 

I want to highlight one sacrifice from this week’s parashah - the Zevah Shelamim, which I don’t want to translate at this moment because the commentators found it very difficult. 

The Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Bible, gives it three different terms, and the rabbis give it even more. In essence, it means that which relates to peace or a sacred gift of greeting. 

In our tradition used in different contexts, it could mean, that the gift was offered ‘wholeheartedly’, a reaffirmation of the covenant between God and Bnai Israel. Midrash HaGadol says, “She Ha Kol Shelemim Bo - for all are complete in it - everyone shared it - priests, donors, and God. In this case, it is a shared offering. 

And this all sounds beautiful. 

But…even though all of the aforementioned interpretations are possible, as Dr. Baruch Levine pointed out in the JPS critical commentary: “There is now comparative evidence to suggest that the term shelamim originally meant "tribute, gift of greeting." In a Ugaritic epic, Keret, the king of a besieged city, offered shalamüma to the commander of the attacking forces in an effort to induce him to withdraw the siege.”

In other words, as Yitzhak Rabin famously said: “You don't make peace with friends. You make it with very unsavory enemies.” This offering has something ‘baked in’ pun intended. 

The Zevach Shelamim consisted of both leavened and unleavened bread—matzah and leavened cakes. But there is something interesting—even though they seem not to resemble each other at all, both types of bread used in the sacrifice are made from the same dough (Mishnah Menachot 5:1). The only difference between the two is that one is allowed to rise, while the other is not. 

So which one is bread? Remember our first question - what is Zionism? Who is a Zionist? 

A legal dispute over control of a somewhat inconsequential Zionist organization in Toronto has exposed a much larger battle over who gets to be called pro-Israel in Canada today. From a recent article titled, “Who Is a Zionist? What Does 'pro-Israel' Mean? A Canadian Court Has Been Asked to Decide”, we read: 

“Most Jewish Canadians born this century probably never heard of the Toronto Zionist Council – an organization founded 115 years ago, long before the establishment of the State of Israel. During its heyday, though, it served as the main hub for all the major Zionist organizations and institutions operating in this key center for Canadian-Jewish life.

With barely a handful of members nowadays, the council might have faded into total obscurity were it not for a recent lawsuit filed by a prominent member of the local Jewish community whose request to join its board was rejected, he says, on the grounds that he supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The board ruled that an individual who expresses unconditional support for the establishment of a Palestinian state cannot be deemed a Zionist and, therefore, does not qualify for membership.

David Matlow, a Toronto attorney known for his large collection of Theodor Herzl memorabilia, filed suit against the board members in the Ontario Superior Court, demanding their ouster for allegedly betraying the original mission of the council – which was to serve as the local umbrella group for Zionist organizations and movements active across the political and religious spectrum.

There is another plaintiff in the case: representatives from Camp Shalom, a Young Judaea camp that is owned by the Toronto Zionist Council. In short, they are accusing the Council is using all the profits from the camp to fund their programs while leaving the camp in disrepair and disarray. And, the camp does not hold by the same values as the organization.”

This is us in a nutshell - we are trying to define which one is Zionism without acknowledging that both are actually Zionism, and in order to have a future, represented by the summer camp, because without a summer camp, there are no kids hence no future; they have to exist together, just as Matzah and Hametz existed together on the alter. 

Remember what Rabin said, “You don't make peace with friends. You make it with very unsavory enemies.” Each side looks at the other as not bread, but in the end, we’re all from the same wheat. 

Zionism 3.0 is the need to find ourselves on the Zionist spectrum - from the most basic and primal needs, the right to live as Jews in our homeland in safety, to have one place where we can escape and not be refugees, to end the crazy cycle of being the Jew in the world; or the self-actualized Zionism is an infinite ideal, where everyone is equal - and all conflicts are solved, where we will change the entire world— Maybe we have to stop telling each other what kind of Zionists to be, but to tell us that we have to recognize that we are all Zionists in our own ways.

The Israel conversation, even amongst those who agree on 99% of things regarding Israel, can lead to tense moments. One would think that I would say we need to avoid tense moments, and maybe now, we do, but after the war, we can’t go back to the way things were. 

All of us need to grow a thicker skin when it comes to how we listen to each other regarding Israel. 

If we truly believe that they are in the tent, we have to give the benefit of the doubt - maybe they experienced something that I never had that shaped that way they think. Maybe I can learn from that - either way.

Dr. Rachel Fish, an expert in combatting antisemitism and founder of the think tank, Boundless who presented at the Zionsim: A New Conversation conference, taught: “Zionism 3.0 cannot be based on crises, lived in trying to discover safe spaces, but our Zionism must be cultivated in brave spaces…We Americans love to resolve things with a bow on top, but in order to reclaim Zionism, we must make the conversation messy.”

And messy is the only way to reclaim Zionism when we, in fact, don’t live in the home that we are speaking about.

But reclaiming Zionism does mean speaking about our other home, even if it's challenging, even if it seems like you’re mixing oil and water together. 

The stakes are higher than you think. I want to end by sharing a story of how Israel came to be. 

Back in the thirties, the Labor Party in Israel was struggling over whether to be in favor of partitioning the land of Israel or not.  If there was a partition, there would be a Jewish state, but on the other hand, if there was a partition, they would have to give up some of the most precious and sacred parts of the land of Israel. And so many people in the Labor Party were torn. Should they be in favor of partition, because it might lead to peace?  And because it might enable them to save some of the Jews of Europe, who had nowhere else to go? Or should they be against partition because it meant surrendering part of the land of Israel forever, meaning the land would never be whole? 

Ben Gurion himself was divided on this question.  And so he went to Yosef Tabenkin, who was one of the elder statesmen of the Labor Party, and who had always been his mentor, and he asked him how he should vote.

Tabenkin said: Give me twenty-four hours, and I will tell you what I think you should do because, before I give you my advice, I need to consult with two people.

Tabenkin came back the next day and said: You should vote for partition.

Ben Gurion thanked him for his advice, and then he said: Would you mind telling me who were the two people whom you consulted before you made your decision?

Tebenkin said: I asked my grandfather, who is no longer alive, and I asked my grandchildren who are not yet born. And only after I thought about what they would say, and about what would be best in their eyes, did I make my decision.”

And he chose partition, because of the people, the Jews that day, the Jews in the past, and the Jews of the future. 

In a recent Brett Stephens interview with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, he said.

“In 50 years, people should say that October 7th was the worst day in our country’s history, and it was also the day that our country was saved.”

Perhaps October 7 was the day when we were remade as Jewish Americans - may the decisions we make today on what Zionism is and who is a Zionist, shape our collective future, and ensure that we have a bright future.

אור חָדָשׁ עַל צִיּון תָּאִיר וְנִזְכֶּה כֻלָּנוּ מְהֵרָה לְאוֹרו.

Cause a new light to illumine Zion.  May we all soon share a portion of its radiance. 

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