‘Was this really necessary?” she asked angrily, accosting me with a page of
newsprint as soon as Shabbat morning services had ended.
necessary?” I asked, bewildered by the interrogation. The piece of paper with
which she’d confronted me was nothing more than an announcement of the World
Zionist Organization’s reproduction of 21 authentic posters from prestate Israel
and its early years of independence. In an accompanying sidebar, I’d written
that the set gave “expression to the ideals on which the Zionist movement was
founded, the challenges it has had to contend with since its outset, and the
remarkable achievements characterizing its first decades.”
“What are you
upset about?” I inquired, genuinely puzzled.
that’s what,” she barked at me in a loud enough voice to draw the attention of
the other congregants milling about. Her face was red with rage. “Israel is
oppressing the Palestinians, and you’re publishing Zionist posters!” To say I
was dumbfounded would be an understatement. Not to mention
Regular readers of this column will surely find it as
unimaginable as I that I could ever be reviled as ultra-nationalistic. And all
for the insidious crime of preaching Zionism.
“The posters aren’t
promoting roadblocks or advocating the expansion of settlements,” I explained
patiently. “What they are is a call for a return to the fundamental values that
drew us here in the first place.”
She wouldn’t be placated. I wouldn’t
She accused me of moral turpitude. I told her I was proud of the
publication. Then it was time for kiddush.
But I couldn’t get the
exchange out of my head. On the way home from shul, befuddlement morphed into
How was it that intelligent, educated and caring citizens of
our country, involved in community life, had come to equate an imperfect Israel
with the Zionist vision, and then proceed to reject the latter because of
disappointment with the former? Halfway home I began entertaining the thought
that perhaps the problem was mine.
If love is blind, then maybe 40-plus
years of infatuation with an ideal of which I’d become enamored as a teenager
had left me unable to discern the undesirable in the Jewish people’s drive for
self-determination. I decided to revisit with fresh eyes the placards I had
carefully selected to reprint.
One, produced in 1941, pictures an
impressive multitude of working women, some of them carrying babies, others
marching arm-in-arm, with a banner above their heads announcing an upcoming
convention dedicated to discussing matters of concern to them. The accompanying
text reads: “Women workers and working mothers. Your taking part in the
elections will strengthen the movement of women workers and the entire labor
union. Women to the voting booth!” Another, also from the World War II period,
pictures a woman in uniform and calls on others to don “the clothes of your
glory” and join the British forces in resisting Nazi Germany.
celebrating the empowerment of women and recognizing that they have always been
integral to the realization of the Zionist pursuit of freedom and security makes
me an ultra-nationalist, I plead guilty as charged. But perhaps the person upset
by the posters was objecting to what she might have interpreted as a certain
militarism reflected in some of them. Maybe she was put off by the one featuring
a proud soldier bearing the caption, “Defend your homeland.
Given that it was produced while we were waging a war for our
very survival, I hardly find that objectionable, and the “aggressive” nature of
the message was in any case tempered by upbeat depictions of farming and
industry in the background. Though our reality has been very different from
Herzl’s vision of a Jewish state that would require no army, the Zionist ethos
demanded that the building and planting that have always characterized the
movement be portrayed, even in the midst of battle.
An additional poster
calling on the populace to provide the struggling nation with a war loan notes
that it is “for the sake of peace,” and features a graphic of a dove with an
olive branch in its mouth hovering above a battle helmet. If applauding the fact
that the unremitting need to fight for our existence has not deterred our people
from yearning for peace makes me an ultra-nationalist, I plead guilty as
Or maybe it was the posters urging a return to the soil that
troubled my interlocutor. One depicts a plow with a driver bearing a rifle slung
over his shoulder under the biblical verse, “With one hand he does his work, in
the other he holds his weapon.” A second is an illustration of a tractor plowing
a field, much to the delight of a small child waving it on alongside a simple
text: “Land. My land.”
If upholding the Zionist ethos of settling that
land, even in the face of adversity, marks me as an ultranationalist along with
the ilk of Ber Borochov and A.
D. Gordon, then yes, again, guilty as
One of the posters is of a bridge connecting what appears to be
a displaced persons camp to a village in Israel along with the words, “Hebrew.
The bridge to Israel.” Another shows what I assume to be an immigrant father and
his young daughter under the heading, “One language, one people. For your sake,
and the sake of your children.” Both urge their audiences to enroll in evening
Hebrew classes. Hard to imagine anything offensive here.
Nor in the call
to those already home to open their arms to those just arriving. “Together for
the sake of aliya and absorption,” reads one of the posters, while another, in
support of an aliya loan, declares that “Our future is in aliya – assist in its
If promoting Hebrew as being fundamental to our sense of
peoplehood and if reminding those who are here that they have a responsibility
to all who would yet come makes me an ultra-nationalist, then yes, again and
again and again, guilty as charged.
But of course, I find nothing
pejorative in any of these values, all of them basic to the Zionist idea. Nor,
in embracing them, do I feel that I am whitewashing an Israel that has yet to
live up to the high hopes of its founders or, for that matter, to our own
expectations. On the contrary. By calling on a new generation to attach itself
to the ideals of a bygone era, I am also calling on them to contribute to making
of this society all that its pioneers wished it would become.
comprising a delightful and engaging historical record of yesteryear, then, more
than providing a fascinating and intimate insight into the atmosphere and spirit
of the times, this vintage collection of Zionist memorabilia should also serve
as a source of inspiration to all of us to keep dreaming, and to continue
working for the fulfillment of the Zionist vision.
Maybe I will even
suggest to my synagogue president that we hang a set in our hallways, a reminder
to all the congregants as to why we are here and what we wish to become.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every Jewish institution around the world agreed to
be as ultranationalistic as that! ■ The writer is vice chairman of the World
Zionist Organization and a member of The Jewish Agency Executive.
blogs at http://keepdreaminginzion.wordpress.com/.
The full set of
posters mentioned in this column may be viewed at http://wzo-vintage.org/.