Thursday, November 29, 2007


November 02, 2007,

by Professor Gil Troy

How do we celebrate Israel’s 60th birthday? How do we mark Zionism’s great success and one of the twentieth century’s most redeeming moments?

When Rabbi David Hartman first came to Israel, he wondered what rituals secular Jews improvised to celebrate Israel’s Independence. On his first Yom Ha’atzmaut he visited an anti-religious kibbutz. He discovered a ghost town. Wandering around, he began sniffing something. Following the smell to the fields, he discovered mass mangal, group barbecues. Similarly, Americans celebrate their Independence on July 4th with picnics and firecrackers. To avoid mass indigestion and the occasional blasted-off finger, Zionists should celebrate Israel’s 60th anniversary with two classically Jewish activities: learning and arguing.

The learning should be straightforward, with the calendar as our guide.

The 90th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration on November 2, 1917, should remind us why it was so significant that the British Government, as described by Lord Arthur Balfour, viewed “with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people” – and why the Jewish people needed a Jewish state at all.

As we celebrate the 60th anniversary of the United Nations’ Partition Plan for Palestine on November 29, 1947, we should remember the joy that seized the Jewish world when the UN legitimized creating a Jewish state, even though this painful compromise deprived Jews of control over Jerusalem. By contrast, the Arabs rejected the compromise. In an historic interview in September (click here to see it), the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas acknowledged what Israel’s supporters have known for a long time. Describing the 1947 partition plan, Abbas said: “we rejected this, so we lost.” The interviewer asked “You should have taken it?” He replied: “Yes, at that time, of course.”

All this learning will culminate in May when we celebrate Israel’s 60th birthday. Here, too, we should remember how vulnerable Israel was, how overwhelming it was to have seven Arab Armies attacking, but how important it was to have a free, proud, democratic and safe Jewish state, after 1900 years of exile.

While remembering our history, we must revitalize our ideology. On May 14, 1948, the 5th of Iyar, Zionism succeeded, creating a state. Since then the question has been: what now? We in the Zionist movement have to use this 60th anniversary to trigger a Zionist renewal, creating a moment of mass redefinition that reaffirms the Jewish commitment to Jewish nationalism while charting a path for a twenty-first century Zionism as an answer to our needs today. We should start arguing, respectfully, passionately, thoughtfully about what the Zionist idea means to us.

In this month’s Atlantic Monthly dozens of prominent Americans describe the “future of the American idea” in 300 words (click here to read the article). The result is a dazzling display of celebrations and condemnations, disappointments and visions, ideas and suggestions. We should undertake a similar exercise – but at the grassroots. We can ask some professors and politicians, intellectuals and entertainers to address the idea. But we should also have Jews from around the world, write out their “ani ma’min,” their Zionist “I believe” and convene in small salons across the world to compare notes and refine them. Everyone connected to the Zionist movement should undertake to host one evening with ten friends who are simply willing to talk about Israel, Zionism, and Jewish peoplehood for an hour. These ideas and new visions should then be summarized and posted on the Web.

To celebrate Israel’s 60th anniversary, we need to find the “I” in Zionism. We need to develop a language that culturally, professionally, morally, practically, brings Israel, Zionism, communal values into our lives today. This is not the Zionism of yesteryear which was us-oriented and historical. We have to figure out a more me-oriented, present-minded, what-have-you-done-for-me-lately, why-should-I-carve-out-my-time-in-my-schedule-for-this, 21st century Zionism.

Anniversaries, both personal and communal, are great opportunities to look back and forward. We appreciate what was, celebrate what is, and build what will be. Now is the time for a massive new Zionism re-engagement, a renewed passion and vision about the centrality of Jewish peoplehood and Israel in our lives. We are blessed to be living in the era of the Third Jewish Commonwealth. Let’s start a conversation about we can all benefit from the Zionist idea – and the charming and sometimes challenging Israeli realities.

P.S. In 2001 I made my own attempt at an “Ani Ma’amin” with my essay “Why I Am A Zionist” which you can read by clicking here .

I invite anyone who is interested to help by translating the essay into languages other than English.

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