When you drive down Road 2, on HaSira Junction in central Israel, you see a big water tower with a statue of Theodor Herzl, his arms crossed, many feet tall, watching over the passing cars. Growing up, I’d be in those passing cars often. My father would drive us from our home in Ramat-Gan all through Israel every summer, and the number 2 highway and Herzl, looming above me, was comforting and impressive — and also a reminder: we are almost home, we are almost home.
I am third generation to the Holocaust, but also third generation to Zionism of the active kind. After my grandparents survived the war, they had very few people left. They were recruited then, by Zionist youth movements. They sailed the seas, illegally, from Europe. The British occupation stopped them as they neared Israel. They spent two years in a detention camp in Cyprus. They learned Hebrew.
In their generation, the term “Zionist” came with an exclamation mark, always. They were “Zionists!” They started out on the kibbutz, then they moved to Ramla. They educated a generation of Hebrew speakers. Their sons and daughters served in the military. They opened businesses. They built a life that was deeply rooted in the ideal of Zionism. And they were proud of their survival and the survival of the state of Israel.
The “Z” word isn’t a word that I use anymore. That’s what Zionism has become for so many of us — Israelis and Jews in the diaspora — the “Z” word. It’s not appropriate everywhere. In Israel it’s still an easy word, though not often used. A new movement, started in 2006, my first year in the army, “Im Tirzu,” wanted to reclaim Zionism. They’ve taken up a fight against organizations like B’Tselem, among other things.
I have to admit that while I hated the idea that talking about the occupation was anti-Zionist, I loved the idea of reclaiming this word.
It’s not that I believe that Zionism absolutely has to be a part of Judaism. But in my world, the two things can’t be divorced. My entire Jewish identity is deeply entangled in the Jewish state. I’m afraid that any attempt to separate the two would leave me hollow and confused.
I think a lot of us are at a crossroads, because when it comes to the Jewish state, we want a flawless and passionate marriage or a complete divorce. But if you ask me, we can talk about racism and occupation and still hold close a connection to Zionism as we see it.
Because for me, this marriage with Israel, it’s sometimes uncomfortable, sometimes painful and sometimes uplifting — like a long night’s drive down Road 2 that ends with the man who created modern Zionism. And a non-Zionist congregation won’t be able to provide any of the marital counsel that his followers and I need.