I moved from Paris, France, my home country, to live in Jerusalem, in Israel. Recently, the article "Who are the true heirs of Zionism?" in the New York Times (04.02.16) depicted a bleak and disheartened image of Israel, a country divided between anti-democratic religious nationalists and dwindling "true" peace-loving and universalist Zionists. But in this article I read, in this divide it depicted, I could not see the country I chose to live in, the beautiful variety and incredibly living and thinking oasis I loved in Israel and that convinced me to move there.
So what does Zionism mean for me? What is the true dream of Zionism today, despite the many who continue to proclaim its death?
In truth, I do not care about how you define the ideology, and I don't even know if it is from an ideology that I moved here, beyond what I saw with my eyes and felt with my heart. All I know is that I could not find any of what I saw and felt in Israel in Erlanger's article, and that I don't believe myself to be a less "true" heir of Zionism than those the article chose to focus on.
Zionism, and whatever you call this feeling or conviction that moves thousands of Jews from their faraway homeland - from the US, from France, and elsewhere, to Israel - is no hate and no fear. And it is no blind faith either: Israel is a problem, it is not a solution. It is the problem of an intricate history that blends the old and the new together, and a millenary-old religion and civilization, Judaism, with modern conceptions of politics and state. It is the problem of applying a dream, a utopia, to the reality. It is not simply a problem of the coexistence of intractable differences, but also its forced transformation from a wishful and insouciant theory to a concrete day-to-day life challenge in Jerusalem. How do you co-exist when everything opposes you? The challenge is real - the problem, nearly insurmountable. But I knew it when I moved there, and I came to Israel because I wanted to be part of this incredible human challenge.
Zionism is no self-seclusion. Zionism is not rejection. Zionism, to me, is actually exactly the contrary. It is moving from France to Israel and to equally love both of my cultural heritages without feeling the need to reject either of the two. It is being convinced that a country built out of such an incredible cultural and linguistic diversity such as Israel, and where this diversity is still very much living, cannot be appropriately described as a cultural ghetto. It is also the hope for mutual understanding in the worst conditions ever: in a landscape in which the differences take on absolute dimension, because it is not just your skin color, but also the God to which you pray, the after-life in which you have faith and the soil you want to give to your grand-children. It is coexistence challenged to the extreme, in a land where dialogue is the least likely to flourish. I came to Israel because I believe that if coexistence between differences could succeed here, it could succeed anywhere. Because I believe what I could learn in Jerusalem is a lesson for my entire life and for the world. Zionism is a challenge not only for the Jews, it is a universal challenge. If you proclaim its death here, you believe the game is over for everyone, in every country and society.
Zionism is not fanaticism, Zionism is not this deadly cocktail of nationalism and religious bigotry that writers seem to believe it inevitably becomes. If Judaism has been and will inevitably be impacted by the existence of Israel, by the fact that the majority of the Jewish people now live on this land or eventually turn their eyes to it from abroad, it does not belong to anyone to predict for sure what this new turn will be for the Jewish People and for Judaism. Today, beyond the simplifying picture some make of the religious public in Israel, I see an incredible renewal taking place. Open-minded, intelligent, profound and insightful young Israelis, in search of answers, take their sources and their heritage and reinterpret it in challenging new ways.
But being pessimistic sells more newspapers. Just as in life generally, it is always up to you to decide whether you see your life half-full or half-empty. Talking about this constant severance between the idealists and the pragmatists, the universalists and the particularists, just as if a "true Zionist" had to choose between those two, Erlanger's article does not speak of those millions, maybe less "sensational," "in-between" people born in Israel or who have come to Israel. All those people that I met, young and old, who do not hold universalism and pragmatism in opposition, those people who are faithful to the Jewish tradition, are pragmatists in regards to the real difficulties of Israel, and yet do not despair that ideals of peace, coexistence, spirituality and respect can exist in this tiny land.
But there is this understated line I can agree with in the article: "Zionism" is ultimately what people make of it. That is why the question of "true heirs" is an empty one. That is why, too, looking forward into the future with an already pessimistic outlook sets the answers you can give from the outset and does not let us work towards the solution.
I am 22 and I moved to Israel out of hope that persistence can make of this country what we want it to be. You can call me a Zionist if you want. But what I know is that Israel is the country in which I want to be, because it is the most beautiful challenge humanity has to solve.