You know you’re a Zionist when you cheer for the Israeli chef during Food Network competitions. You know you’re a Zionist when you’ve never gone to a Marvel Comics movie but you’re on line for Wonder Woman the day it opens because it stars Gal Gadot.
And when you buy a SodaStream machine, even though seltzer gives you a stomachache, you know for sure you’re a Zionist.
Zionists in America have, traditionally, bought Israeli products whenever and wherever they happened upon them. But until recently, the choice was limited. Jaffa oranges might as well have had Israeli flags pasted on them. They were the quintessential Israeli product and American Zionists took great pride each time they were displayed in markets or served at their dinner tables. Same reaction for Carmel wines. Even the sweet syrupy varieties were exciting for a Zionist.
Today, choices abound. A Zionist today sees “Made in Israel” on products on store shelves, on clothing labels, and sees television programs modeled after original Israeli programming. They see and read and hear about Israeli technology and inventions in the news: Israeli inventions, Israeli start-ups bought up by international corporations for millions and billions of dollars, and nobody leaves home without Waze on their phone.
The almost month-long period between Independence Day and Jerusalem Day is a time that naturally encourages pride in Israel’s accomplishments, and American Zionists embrace that feeling of pride.
But the sad fact is that with each passing year, there are fewer and fewer American Zionists. Fewer and fewer Zionists are living in the goldeneh medina – literally “the golden country,” but euphemistically, the land of opportunity.
One reason for the downswing in Zionist pride is, unfortunately, the upswing in anti-Israel sentiment sweeping across America, especially in the form of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. Popular acceptance of BDS has had an impact. The vicious canard that Israel is an oppressor of Palestinians has become an acceptable narrative in US society. Hatred of Israel has become commonplace.
But that’s not the only or even the biggest reason that American Zionists are dwindling in numbers.
Many Jews, too many Jews – maybe even most Jews living in the United States – simply do not care.
They do not care about anything Jewish. And caring about Israel is part of being Jewish. This year, I reminded people that it was Israel Independence Day. Not just one person, but several people had no idea that it was the day to celebrate Israel’s creation. They were pleased to be reminded and a little embarrassed that they needed to be.
One person actually argued with me that it couldn’t be Independence Day. Not that it wasn’t the correct date on the Hebrew calendar because the celebratory day had been moved from the 5th of Iyar to the 4th so as not to coincide with Shabbat; rather, he was saying that it couldn’t be the correct day or he would have known. And then he whipped out his phone and started to WhatsApp friends and relatives in Israel to wish them a happy holiday, a hag sameah.
TODAY, the real issue stopping people from connecting to Israel and connecting to Judaism, the biggest obstacle to overcome, is simply disinterest. And in order to revive the numbers of Zionists, we must raise their level of interest in Israel and all that Israel stands for, all that Israel embraces.
To be Jewish in America today is to live in a free market of ideas. Young and old, Jews can join any club, choose any profession, and live in any city or town. Joining a Jewish cause or connecting to Israel as a cause, i.e., being a Zionist, is just one of many options. And not too many Jews are choosing that option or signing up for that affiliation.
One would have thought that BDS and rising antisemitism would be significant motivators for would-be Zionists. But they are not. And that’s because those movements, too, are irrelevant for most Jews in America.
In past generations, antisemitism was the vehicle that pushed Jews into the Jewish community because they were not accepted elsewhere.
But today’s Jews, potential Zionists, dodge antisemitism just like they avoid other distasteful ideas and groups. If antisemitism does not directly touch them, they have no need to respond to it – or to bind together with like-minded people to fight it.
And that’s a sad addendum to the history of American Jewry.
For those of us who are still strong and proud Zionists, the miracle that is Israel still sends our hearts soaring. The creation of the Jewish state was a miracle.
That Israel was able to survive those first few years was a miracle. That Israel transitioned into being a world leader in so many fields, and is the envy of much of the world, is another amazing and awe-inspiring miracle.
In 15 short years, from 1941 to 1956, the Jewish people went from destruction to rebirth to creative productivity. And at 71, Israel is one of the biggest builders and largest contributors to the world.
Non-Zionists don’t know the wonderful feeling they’re missing out on.The writer is a political commentator and host of Thinking Out Loud on JBS TV. Follow him on Twitter @MicahHalpern.
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