Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The False Zionist

My friend quoted something to me that Rabbi Riskin said in the name of the Rav:

"Religious Zionism is a compound noun. One cannot be religious without being a Zionist, and one cannot be a Zionist without being religious. If you are not a Zionist, something is lacking in your religion."

I've been thinking about this subject for a long time. I know something to which I'd rather not admit: I'm not, as much as I wish to be, a true Zionist.

Oh, I am from a very detached perspective. I believe in the absolute good that is the creation of the State of Israel. I read about the people who fought and gave their lives for its creation and I am moved. Every time I hear HaTikvah, I think of my grandfather, whose very life was devoted and dedicated to the state in a way that I can only envy. I think of the words on his lips, and how much meaning they had.

I envy him, but it is difficult to envy something I can't understand...

    However, if Love of Zion is expressed by living in the Holy Land, striking roots there, loving its soil and desiring its stones, sharing in the burdens of the community under siege, and being totally committed to the destiny of the Holy City of Jerusalem, then my uncle was a true lover of Zion. He refused to leave the Holy City even when the enemy besieged its gates. He totally rejected all proposals to emigrate to safe cities outside the Land of Israel. This true love of Zion found its total fulfillment and realization as a "Man of Halakhah" who was in theological opposition to the State of Israel and separated himself from its ideology. He was the true lover of Zion, and not the Jew who lives comfortably in New York or Los Angeles and regularly flies back and forth between the United States and Israel.

    ~Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, The World of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, page 115

Rabbi Soloveitchik has the most interesting insight regarding the love of Israel in my generation as opposed to other generations:

    East European Jews were transfixed by the mere reference to the State of Israel. These Jews had always been stateless. They never really felt an inner commitment to the lands in which they resided. They were constantly subjected to persecution and hardship in these countries. Therefore they were enchanted by the very mention of a Jewish state. However, the Jew born in the United States is totally at home in his country. He is an integral part of America and benefits from completely equal rights and unlimited opportunities. The American Jew is not captivated by the mere concept of a Jewish state.

    ~Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, The World of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, page 98

He concludes by stating that the only motivating factor "which can inspire the American Jew toward Israel is the religious bond."

I've read excerpts from Orot and it is clear how much R' Kook felt for the land. His passion for it is beautifully rendered, sanctified and distilled into an essence of holiness.

So why can't I feel it? Why doesn't it press upon me?

Perhaps because I have not spent enough time there. Yes, that is possible- that with more exposure I could come to love the land more. But I didn't feel it- this sense of connection, of homecoming, of connecting- when I did come. I admired the beauty and the history and how lovely everything was, and in a strong way I saw it as being mine in that I was a Jew, I possessed it in a way that was different than if I had been touring some other foreign country, but I still didn't feel...connected, I suppose. I do not have the passion, the desire, the love for the land.

    Every word was filled with endless longing for the Land which is saturated by divine light and radiant energy. Yes, my uncle possessed deep love for the Land, although he opposed the State of Israel. Many American Zionists are committed to the State of Israel, but they are totally unwilling to dwell there. The mere thought of aliyah engenders within them a sense of dread and distress. Who is more preferable- my uncle or these American Zionists? (Soloveitchik, 115)

Obviously his uncle is far more preferable...and obviously any weak Zionism I claim is very flawed- but why is that? It's not my parents. My father loves the land; in another life he would be living there at this very moment. My mother, too, loves the land; she too would live there if she could. So why do I balk and rebel, why can't I feel this love and desire, why don't I see this place as my home, why do I not feel any connection?

I went to the Kotel. I pressed my cheek against the wall; I placed my hand upon its surface. I felt nothing, nothing! Here, where so many others have cried, this place that the soldiers fought to win...and I come and I do not feel any connection to it. Of course, I am wrong to think that I suddenly ought to feel some kind of magical connection; it comes from within. But why do I seem so spiritually dead, so unmoved? Why don't I want to make aliya?

Well, the simplest reason is that the thought terrifies me (as Rabbi Soloveitchik correctly states.) Take me from everything and everyone I know and place me in a completely different land, and you expect me to flourish? But I like America and I like my house and its buildings and most of all, I like the fact that everyone speaks blessed, blessed English. I've long given up on my ability to ever master Hebrew, and it is maddening to have to try to express yourself in the language when you know quite well exactly what you'd like to say in English, and in twenty different ways, no less.

I like my books and I like my teachers and I like my life. I'm spoiled and I'm privileged, but I don't feel guilty about it, I accept it as my due. How can you expect me to move to a land where the English books are in short supply, and my friend can't find the continuation to the fantasy series she's trying to read? This is what I find important...perhaps I should not, perhaps it's flawed, perhaps it's wrong, but it's true. Is it a sin to want to read my books?

So what ought I to do? Move to a land out of a sense of obligation and hate it? That can't be the ideal. No, the ideal would be to cultivate what these other people have, this sense of love and a fierce desire to protect, this true, deep and abiding love of the land. I don't see how to do it, and I don't really think it's something that can be conveyed with words; you can give me all the rational reasons in the world and I'll still not feel as I should.

This is particularly disturbing when I encounter someone who is a completely secularized Jew but who flames with his love of the land, who tries to spend as much time as possible living and working there, who attends large rallies with his parents (and they give money generously), who has looked into all kinds of Zionist organizations to join...why does he have this love, but I don't? I'm jealous of him, yes, jealous.

Am I taking the easy way out if I say that I feel as though I were meant to live in America? Surely God would not give me a gift for words and then state that I am not meant to use it? Am I a sinner if I can really only learn English and manage Biblical Hebrew, but find Modern Hebrew torturous? Do I really have to move to a country where I would feel so out of place, so unable to be me, so much less than who I am in order to prove a love that I do not feel? Am I a traitor if I don't? Am I turning my back on God?

And why, why, why don't I feel this love that others do?

14 comments:

Ezzie said...

AAGH! I don't even know where to start...!

I think you have misunderstood Zionism, even quoting R' Soloveitchik who discusses it so well - and yet still missing a piece of it. But then again, perhaps the idea comes more easily to me, so I can't fathom others not understanding, so I should be nicer.

Both of my parents' siblings made aliyah - one family is now completely charedi, the other dati leumi [or not religious]. Both have an intense love for Eretz Yisroel, one that has almost nothing to do with the State. Yes, one family also takes a greater pride in the State and has better feelings for it [usually], but that is not Zionism. That is a love of having our own country, a different aspect.

Zionism is more like Rav Soloveitchik's - the same kind that allows my charedi cousin to turn to me and say, meaning it with all his heart, that you'll never find a bigger Zionist.

Anyway, since you're currently telling me that I misunderstood how you understand it, I'll shut up. But Zionism is about an all-encompassing love for the land and all that is incorporated within it. It's something that's indescribable without spending a good amount of time just *being* there, IMO. And now I'm missing it again...

Eitan Kastner said...

Chana,

I too have often felt the same way, especially when confronted with the scores of our aliyah crazed compatriots here in Yeshiva. I too have often felt: what do they see that I don’t when standing and praying at the Kotel or ecstatically dancing on Yom Ha’atzmaut? I have never “felt” a specific holiness when I have visited Israel and have all but given up finding what seems to come so naturally to my friends. Where you and I do differ is that I have had the great fortune of spending a good deal of time in Israel (A year in yeshiva and the summer before and the two following that experience). And I am sad to say that, if anything, that time I spent in Israel convinced me that while the State will always be important to me, I know I will never be able to live there and be happy and successful.

Some advice that I can offer you, though, is that the very fact that you are asking these questions and searching for some meaning in Israel implies that you have a passion for it. Perhaps, rooting your Zionism in religion is the wrong outlet, with all due respect to Rabbi Riskin and Rabbi Soloveitchik.

I know for me, the places that move me the most in Israel are not the ones that reference our ancient past, but our recent history. Viewing an early kibbutz, or the underground bullet factory at Machon Ayalon, or the battlefield at Ammunition hill, move me far more than any trip to the Kotel ever has. If nothing more, these sites, among many others, show us the determination and will by those individuals who wholeheartedly did believe in the dream of a Jewish state, even when there was absolutely no rational reason to do so.

If our Jewish State can not stir your religious feelings toward God, at least it can bolster your hope in the ability of our fellow Jews...At least that’s what works for me. It does not get me to make aliyah, but it lets me respect and appreciate those who do.

I person I know who is very involved with nefesh b’nefesh once told me that you have to be a crazy dreamer to make aliyah. I think the world needs crazy dreamers, but the world could not function if everyone was one.

-Eitan

Chana said...

Eitan,

At times, language is limited. What I'd like to do is give back to you a little of the feeling and understanding you've given to me, but I don't know how to do it or how to say it, so all I can do is inadequately thank you.

Everything you wrote strikes a chord with me. I do see Israel as a testimony to the human spirit, and that inspires me. It's the stories about the committed individuals, as you said, who had "no rational reason" to believe the state would ever come to be that amazes me. It's their triumph that I find compelling.

That's not rooted in religion so much as the people who founded and believed in the dream, and that's what I respect and admire, in the same way that I admire those who are willing and able to move there and make aliya and act upon their beliefs.

The problem, of course, is that I do not love the land in that case...it could have been any land, per se; it's the human spirit that I admire. I find it difficult to love a land, even a beautiful one; it's easier for me to accept the idea of a holy nation or people than a holy land.

I think you're being kind in giving me an excuse, however, and saying that if I am upset about not feeling anything, I do feel which suggests that I care. I appreciate that, though I don't think it suffices.

About being a crazy dreamer to make aliyah- perhaps we're all crazy dreamers, merely in different ways? Some have the dream to possess and inhabit the holy land and others have the dream to teach and impart knowledge and still others want to travel the world, and so on and so forth. Perhaps the question is simply which of these dreams line up with what others suggest is an ultimate good, and which do not.

It occurs to me that Rabbi Kook demonstrates both approaches; he obviously loves the land, but he also loves the people of the land- he is alleged to have said something like "the holy feet that kick the holy ball" when he heard there was a soccer match on Shabbos in Israel. He saw the Zionists, secular or not, as involved in a necessary and important effort, and he loved them all, despite the degree of their religiosity.

That's what I can connect to- the people, not the land.

You've given me a lot to think about. Thank you.

M.R. said...

So Zionism is love of the Land, with love of the P/people of the Land as a [necessary?] corollary.

You feel [fill in negative adjective here] because you don't feel this intense love of the Land.

But what's love?
Specifically: what is love toward people, and what is love toward an object? How are they the same/different?

daat y said...

You need to spend a year of learning Torah in EY and then re-evaluate.

jackie said...

Not everyone connects with Israel through an inspiring visit to the Kotel. I was never moved by the Kotel in the same way that my friends were. But I found that the Torah I learned in Israel had a very different quality from the Torah I've leanred in America.

I don't think that I ever would have gained a connection to Israel on a vacation--for me, it needed to be a whole year of study.

I couldn't say if it would be the same for you, but...hey, I figure it's worth mentioning. Especially since it seems like you so deeply want to cultivate a connection with the land.

SJ said...

When I went to Israel for a year after high school, I went with no intention of becoming a true Zionist, without even a knowledge that it was a possibility. I hardly knew that such love of Eretz Yisrael existed. When I arrived in my seminary, and suddenly found aliyah heavily pushed, I resisted. I had no plans of moving to Israel! Who were they to tell me that it is wrong to live in America? I had never even heard these concepts before.

As the year went on, the aliyah pressure abated, and slowly, slowly, hardly realizing, I found myself falling for the land. By the time Yom Hazikaron and Yom Haatzmaut came, I felt deeply. And on Yom Yerushalayim I knew, I truly knew that this was my home; I felt connected in a way I would never have imagined possible. I resolved then that I would one day live in Israel. Though I now know that this cannot happen for a certain number of years, due to where Hashem has taken me since then, it is a goal I always try to keep in mind, though I know it cannot be attained just yet, and though the passion and connection is hard to maintain from so far away.

Like Jackie, I would also like to suggest that a vacation is not enough. Being forced, or forcing yourself, to feel a connection will not work. It is something that needs to develop over time.

As far as your fears are concerned--believe me, I have grappled with similar fears. But (a) I think you are silly to set limitations for yourself by declaring that you cannot learn modern Hebrew--I happen to know that you are capable of learning whatever you choose to learn. And (b) moving to Israel does not necessitate giving up the English language, relinquishing your gift. English words can still be written (and even spoken) in a country that speaks Hebrew. One of the beautiful things about the written word is that it is eminently transportable.

You should certainly not move to Israel against your own desires. But I do think that if you are interested in cultivating the love that you so envy, that you give yourself a chance to experience life in Israel--if not for a full year, then over the summer, perhaps?

M.R. said...

To emphasize what SJ said, *experience* life in Israel, rather than tour around with a hotel as your home base. Not easy, necessarily, but considerably more rewarding.

Orthoprax said...

"Religious Zionism is a compound noun. One cannot be religious without being a Zionist, and one cannot be a Zionist without being religious. If you are not a Zionist, something is lacking in your religion.""

I'd suggest that this statement be re-evaluated. Surely one cannot call all the early (and current) secular Zionists (like Herzl, for instance) not Zionists!

I think it is quite possible for one to a) religious and b) a Zionist without being a "religious Zionist" which implies all sorts of political and religious views that one doesn't necessarily need to hold.

Erachet said...

"Well, the simplest reason is that the thought terrifies me (as Rabbi Soloveitchik correctly states.) Take me from everything and everyone I know and place me in a completely different land, and you expect me to flourish? But I like America and I like my house and its buildings and most of all, I like the fact that everyone speaks blessed, blessed English. I've long given up on my ability to ever master Hebrew, and it is maddening to have to try to express yourself in the language when you know quite well exactly what you'd like to say in English, and in twenty different ways, no less.

I like my books and I like my teachers and I like my life. I'm spoiled and I'm privileged, but I don't feel guilty about it, I accept it as my due. How can you expect me to move to a land where the English books are in short supply, and my friend can't find the continuation to the fantasy series she's trying to read? This is what I find important...perhaps I should not, perhaps it's flawed, perhaps it's wrong, but it's true. Is it a sin to want to read my books?"

I'm with you there, Chana. I know EXACTLY how you feel because I feel the same way. I remember the very beginning of my year in Israel. My roommate was a HUGE advocate for, "there's no way I can go back to America for another four years, I must make Aliyah RIGHT NOW." In my mind, I felt the same way, but in my heart, I just felt homesick for America and like I was in a foreign country. It made me very sad to be IN the Old City and yet feel nothing. How could I feel nothing, looking over the rooftops of Jerusalem every single day, with the Kotel just around the corner? I had been to the Kotel so many times and none of those times did I remember feeling anything. I'd been there with groups where others in the group cried, and I would stand with dry eyes thinking, "it's really chilly out and I didn't bring my sweatshirt. I hope we're not going to have a shiur here or anything."

So one night, when I sat with my roommate on the roof of our dorm building and looked out over the rooftops of the Old City, I confided in my roommate my most inner feelings and fears. I told her that, it was weird, I know in my mind that I belong in Israel, and I can dictate to myself exactly what I should be feeling, but I just didn't feel for real! I was trying to fool myself into thinking I did.

I went through the same dilemma that you are describing. I wanted so badly to love Israel like I was supposed to, but it just wasn't happening.

It did happen, though. Eventually. As I spent the year there, I learned to feel at home. This is a very weird analogy but think of it almost like Beauty and the Beast. At first in the Beast's castle, Beauty feels homesick for her father's house and cannot appreciate all the goodness that the Beast does for her. But once she's been there a while, she learns to feel at home, and once she does return to her father's house, she knows the Beast's castle is where she truly belongs.

Love is not something that just happens. It has to grow and develop. It is perfectly normal and legitimate not to feel anything for a country you haven't spent enough time in.

And ditto to SJ about English. Trust me, eventually, when I make Aliyah, I'm definitely opening a branch of Barnes and Noble there.

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Rare Find said...

A little late to the party, I know, but I haven't been to blogland lately, so I'll chime in now. If I'm repeating anything, I apologize, I haven't read the comments.

There are "reasons" to feel connected to Israel, such as its biblical or political significance. To me, neither of these reasons are so special, because I find it hard to relate to something just on biblical significance, and I don't care much for politics.

But I care about Israel. I don't passionately follow everything to do with the land, and, as you know, I didn't have the desire to spend a year learning there. I don't think you need to have such a strong desire. Every Jew, I believe, has a connection to the land, something mystical. It shows itself in various degrees. I find myself annoyed by the fact that my high school never did anything for Yom Ha'atzmaut, yet I never complained about it. It didn't make much of a difference in my life. Still, that feeling of annoyance was there. I couldn't explain it, but I felt we should be doing something.

So you don't have a huge passion for Israel. You're not alone. But you do have some sort of feeling toward it, I'm sure. You were quite moved by the Yom HaZikaron speech, I know. There's your connection. It may not be as strong as others, but it exists. There is no reason why you "should" feel that way, it's just your nature. I think that's Zionism: the feeling of connection toward the land, no matter how extreme.

Matt said...

[Warning: I haven't read the comments!]

I don't have an answer for you at the moment, but WOW: I really admire the honesty you have expressed in your post. I am going to think about your question, and I'll let you know if I think of anything.

Anonymous said...

i think you are deeply connected to israel. there's a chasidic discussion about cheshek, yearning. yearning is higher than love. when one experiences love, it's already "here". but, when one is yearning, the feeling is stronger.
it also says that when we yearn this is an aspect of H' yearning for us.
so your deep yearning to have the feeling that you see others have indicates a very deep feeling within you.
i wonder would it be helpful to let yourself be open to what moves you, to what connects you. it could be music, a verse, an activity, organization, a picture, a person, a story...notice what gives you even a little taste of that feeling and stay with it. see where it takes you.
maybe the more you cultivate that feeling it will grow and grow! b'ezrat H' you will experience fully the feelings you long for. they are surely within you.
kol tuv!