Prospects for Zionism in the Eighties
with Emanuel Rackman
World tensions yield so many surprises that I do not dare to predict what will befall the State of Israel in the eighties. I believe with all my heart that it will continue to exist and even to prosper. Zionism, as an ideal, will also continue to exist — for me Zionism and Judaism are two sides of the same coin, and both are eternal. Therefore, in this symposium, I address myself only to the prospects for the World Zionist Organization, which can be regarded as the midwife that helped bring the state into being, and since then appears to have lost its raison d’etre. Will the eighties bring a further decline in its importance, or will there be regeneration through new׳ needs and new’ programs?
￼Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of the members of this world organization, and the overwhelming majority of the members of the organizations affiliated with it are not contemplating aliyah within the foreseeable future. Therefore, we cannot define a Zionist as one committed to aliyah. That suggests the question: How does one then distinguish between a Zionist, and a non-Zionist who is a friend of Israel, contributes to its many causes, and champions its right to be among the nations? The WZO suffers because of its failure to reply. It cannot impose the duty of aliyah on every member unless it wishes to alienate all but a few. It would also be dishonest to say that a Zionist hopes that one day he will make aliyah, when we know in advance that he has no such intention. I want to suggest a simple but visceral answer to the question.
For a Zionist, Israel is the one place in the world in which he feels most at home. It may never be the place where he will live — whatever the reason — but it is the place where he has the gut-feeling, “This is mine. This is ours. This is my ‘homeland’” (a cherished word in Zionist history). The non-Zionist, if he really is a non-Zionist, does not have that feeling. He cherishes Israel, which is the home of many of his co-religionists. It is also the place where his people and his faith were cradled. But London, Paris, or New York can be home for him. It may even thrill him that Israelis have succeeded so well, but no trip to Israel is for him a homecoming as it is for the Zionist. He is always a tourist in Israel and no more.
It will surprise no one that there is a definite correlation between the measure of a Jew’s acculturation and assimilation in the Diaspora and the depth of his gut-feeling that Israel is his homeland. Except for the Hassidim, the less assimilated the Jew׳ is, the stronger is his tie to the “land of the fathers.” Therefore, Zionism, in the eighties, must concentrate on combating excessive acculturation and assimilation. It must sponsor and support every promising program that induces a feeling of Jewish identity and a sense of alienation in lands other than Israel.
One may rightfully ask, however, whether it is proper for the Zionist movement to magnify the sense of alienation which Jews usually have in the Diaspora. If some Jew’s think that they have successfully lost it, is it ethical to discomfit them by reviving or quickening it? I answer affirmatively because the preponderant weight of the evidence supports the conclusion that Jews who feel altogether at home in lands other than Israel are deluding themselves, and we render their psyches a service when we expose the delusion and make the self-deluding aware of reality.
I am not referring to the possibility or probability that what happened in Germany must inevitably happen everywhere, because I do not want to rest the Zionist movement upon the basis that danger lurks for us wherever we are. We must stress the goal of self-fulfillment rather than self-protection. A Jew׳ cannot truly feel at home even in the most sophisticated circles of the intelligentsia as long as the Jew ish component in modern civilization continues to be either ignored or denigrated. At more tender ages, Jewish children or adolescents are never comfortable in Christian society when Christian festivals are observed. Blacks learned from Jews how to accept the fact of difference, rather than sameness, converting it into an asset for their liberation. Jews must do the same, and there are programs that can help them do so. Camps and community centers can add to that which home and school can offer.
I happen to believe that a sense of alienation is a blessing, and even at home in Israel one should not forfeit it altogether. It is healthy to become detached occasionally from one’s surroundings in order to view them critically. It precipitates self-evaluation and the evaluation of the value system that the individual shares with his kin and compatriots. It makes for that “aloneness” which lies at the heart of many religious and artistic experiences. Thus, to nurture a sense of alienation is sometimes as important as the promotion of a sense of nationalism or social solidarity.’Certainly, a sense of alienation in Jews of the Diaspora will make Zionists of them, according to my definition of a Zionist. It pains me to agree with many who regard the aliyah program of the WZO as an almost total waste of money and manpower. These millions would be much more wisely and effectively expended in formal and informal Zionist education — education for identification with the world-wide brotherhood of Jews and the centrality of Israel as the stage of their past, the challenge of their present, and the site of their messianic future. Budgets for this purpose must be increased five, even ten-fold. The programs must involve stays, long or short, in Israel. Most of the WZO staff may have to be retired and different talent brought in. Still, there is no other way.
True, the millions that the WZO might allocate to these programs would still be considerably less than what, let us say, the American Jewish community is spending on Jewish education. But for that very reason, the WZO can concentrate on programs that are less concerned with Jewish information than with Jewish experience, the kind that evokes a sense of belonging to the Jewish people and a readiness to keep the group alive and dynamic. The media must be exploited for the purpose, though the cost is astronomical.
The eighties will undoubtedly find Israel in need of massive political support as the free world intensifies its wooing of the Islamic world. It will also have to become more self-sufficient as Jews in the Diaspora give less and less to Israeli causes. Critical years do lie ahead. Therefore, it is all the more urgent that we generate in as many Jews as we can the feeling that Israel is their homeland, and that they must not countenance the possibility of a third loss of that which is theirs. If we do not generate that feeling now, in another 10-20 years it may be too late.
I know that it is easier for religious and/or observant Jews to achieve the desired result. Secularists find it harder. But once upon a time they, too, did it successfully — they must try again. At the same time, they should try not to discomfit Orthodox Jews in the world organization, which is presently being done even with a sense of delight. Already, too many Orthodox Jews feel that there can be Jewish survival without Israel. Permit their number to increase, and even the little aliyah emanating from the Free World will altogether cease. Furthermore, much can be learned from the Orthodox on how to make Jews feel more Jewish and less at home in non-Jewish lands and societies.
There is nothing new in what I am suggesting. Indeed, the suggestion is contained in the Bible as a prophecy. Moses prophesied (Deuteronomy IV: 25-30) that in their exile Jews would become attached to the gods of the countries in which they settle. Yet even without persecution, somehow, there will be alienation from the dominant pagan religions and a seeking after God. It would appear that what will stimulate the return is precisely the feeling that they are not at home, because for a Jew there is only one place where he can be himself — for better or worse.
I am not so sure that the leadership of the World Zionist Organization is prepared to accept either so simple or so traditional an analysis as I have made. Yet sometimes the best answers are the obvious ones — those tried and tested in the collective experience of one’s people.