‘It’s More Than a Feeling’: A Reflection on Zionism

Alissa Thomas
January 1, 2013
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As expected, everyone is thinking, talking, and praying about Israel right now.

Perhaps we feel as though there is a tether tied around our own hearts and identities, and its opposite end is bound up in Israel’s future.

Or maybe as North American Jews, we are frightened for our loved ones who live there and of the implications of what uncertainty in Israel means here.

Maybe we even feel guilty for being Jews who benefit from the existence of the State of Israel but who are currently far from it.

Or better yet, perhaps we are not really sure why our stomachs sink upon reading the news, but nevertheless we just can’t shake the feeling.

Is this what Zionism feels like?

Frankly, I love Israel. I am a proud Zionist and am blessed to have benefited from the existence of the Jewish state for my entire life.

In my experience this is exactly what Zionism feels like—it is a dream, a fear, a passion, and a longing. And today, it is most profoundly an inexplicable bond to a land that holds everything we are, everything we struggle with, and everything we aspire to become.

I believe in the Zionist dream. And while I am by no means naïve to the struggles that Israel as a state grapples with nationally and internationally, I have internalized that dream as a spiritual, intellectual, cultural, and inherently religious directive for my present and future.

This definitely feels like Zionism…and dare I say, love?

What it means to be a ‘Zionist’ has changed in many ways since the time of Theodor Herzl. Originally the Zionist Movement was grounded in a cultural, Communist vision that came to fruition in the Kibbutz Movement. It was not a religious vision at all, but rather a dream for a safe land in which Jews could live. Israel was the place for Jews to establish their own nation so as to no longer be a separate people residing within a foreign nation. In Israel, we would no longer be ‘the other’.

Today, however, Zionists are religious as well. The existence of the Jewish State has become a religious imperative, a cultural necessity, or for some, a realization of the Messianic redemption. The Jewish State is an inextricable part of what it means to be Jewish in the 21st century, because being a Jew means identifying with Israel and ultimately dealing with how our lives are impacted by the existence of our state.

Zionism impacts every Jew today.

So does Zionism have a positive or negative impact on you?

Though I have made it very clear how I feel about Israel today, I must confess that I remember sitting in a Jewish classroom in middle school and feeling afraid to admit I was a ‘Zionist’.  At that time and place in my life a ‘Zionist’ was someone who was extreme, crazy, and unable to see every side. This is NOT the case, and I believe it is imperative for any association with ‘Zionism’ and ‘Extremism’ to be rejected entirely.

Zionism is our movement, and we define its meaning.

I personally would like to emphasize the spiritual implications of Zionism in relation to God’s command for Jews to be an Or Lagoyim, a light unto the nations. We are meant to be a people through whom the rest of the world will be blessed, as we see over and over again in Sefer Bereshit.

As the children of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, we have inherited this blessing and have a responsibility not only to other Jews and to God, but also to the rest of the world to truly live tzedek, mishpat, and chesed.

What better place to be a light unto the nations than Israel?

I believe that the dream of the Zionist, ‘lihyot am chofshi b’artzeinu’, to be a free people in our land of Israel, comes hand in hand today with our command to be a light unto the nations, a holy people, a kingdom of priests.

The Zionist Movement’s dream of a Jewish State and its existence today is thus crucial to our spiritual state.

It is no wonder that when we read the news we cannot shake that inexplicable feeling.

May we embrace our connection, love, struggle, and longing for Israel and see peace in our lifetimes. And may we not only live the Zionist dream of being an Am Chofshi, but also live as an Am Kadosh, a holy people that strives to emulate God’s goodness through tzedek, mishpat, and chesed b’artzeinu.

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Alissa Thomas is currently a student at Yeshivat Maharat. She graduated from Brandeis University with a bachelor’s degree in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies and a bachelor’s degree in Classical Studies Archaeology and Ancient History. She has studied at Machon Pardes, Neve Yerushalayim, and the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. She has completed one unit of Clinical Pastoral Education at Bellevue Hospital and is also the present Rosh Beit Midrash for Uri L’Tzedek. She is originally from Los Angeles, California and currently lives in New York City.

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