Scholar’s take on Hertzberg’s epic anthology spurs dialogue on Israel

Gil Troy follows up the ‘Zionist Bible’ with over 170 voices of pioneers, builders and torchbearers.

 Even visionary Israel Bonds founder David Ben-Gurion could not have imagined multi-million dollar institutional investments in Israel bonds (photo credit: ISRAEL BONDS)
Even visionary Israel Bonds founder David Ben-Gurion could not have imagined multi-million dollar institutional investments in Israel bonds
(photo credit: ISRAEL BONDS)
 NEW YORK – In 1959, the Conservative rabbi and prominent Jewish-American scholar Arthur Hertzberg set out to publish a collection of essays by the most illustrious Zionist thinkers from the early 19th century until the establishment of the State of Israel.
What resulted was Hertzberg’s epic anthology The Zionist Idea: A Historical Analysis and Reader, with contributions from towering figures of the Jewish world such as Theodor Herzl, Ahad Ha-am, former US Supreme Court justice Louis Brandeis, Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, and father of the nation prime minister David Ben-Gurion.
Now, more than 60 years later, a follow-up volume to the classic tome is finally being published. The Zionist Ideas: Visions for the Jewish Homeland – Then, Now, Tomorrow, written by renowned scholar, history professor and Jerusalem Post op-ed contributor Gil Troy, takes a comprehensive approach to unpacking the challenges modern Zionism faces, while simultaneously expanding on the virtues of Jewish self-determination.
At a recent book-launching event in Midtown Manhattan, Troy described the effort to update Hertzberg’s classic as both deeply challenging and rewarding.
“I knew I had huge shoes to fill – Hertzberg’s book was the Zionist Bible for me and for generations of Israel-lovers before me and after me,” Troy said at the Madison Avenue meeting on Thursday.
“Still, I thought many more texts would be easily available online, already translated, and prime for the picking. The more I plunged into the Zionist conversation over the decades, the more compelling the texts I read, the harder it was to whittle it down and boil each essay to the short, digestible texts I wanted,” Troy continued.
To unpack the complexities of contemporary Zionism, a multiplicity of voices – 170 plus passionate visionaries, quadruple Hertzberg’s original number – now appear in the 2018 volume, including women, Mizrahim and other formerly overlooked thinkers.
The McGill University professor divides the book into three time periods, then subdivides the conversation into six schools of Zionist thought – Political, Revisionist, Labor, Religious, Cultural, and Diaspora – shedding light on the surprisingly diverse and shared commitments to realizing Israel as a democratic Jewish state.
Part one explores the backstories, dreams and legacies of the pre-1948 pioneers who founded the Jewish state, from Theodor Herzl to Henrietta Szold.
Part two, examining the era between 1949 and 2000, delves into the builders of the state who actualized and modernized the Zionist blueprints. Troy examines the contributions of the state’s founders and subsequent custodians such as Ben-Gurion, Isaiah Berlin, Golda Meir, Menachem Begin, Joseph B. Soloveitchik and Leon Uris.
Finally, part three showcases today’s “torchbearers,” who are now reassessing, redirecting and reinvigorating the state, with Troy speaking with luminaries such as Aharon Barak, Ayelet Shaked, A.B. Yehoshua and Rabbi Jonathan Sacks.
“One thing that did help was that, from the start, the way to organize the material was clear,” Troy said. “All too often, the media treats Zionism like a set of pom-poms waved around to support the latest Israeli policy or politician. But Zionism is more like a springboard, launching ideas about what Judaism means, how Jewish nationalism can inspire us, and what Israel can mean to each of us.
“I hope this book will help Jews take Zionism personally, meaning to see Zionism as a framework for learning more about our past, finding meaning in the present, and building a more inspiring future by working together as a people – and by seeing Israel as a living old-new laboratory for exciting new ideas and meaningful traditional values,” he added.
The book also features a foreword by outgoing Jewish Agency Chairman and former deputy prime minister Natan Sharansky, who lavishes the book with high praise for its insightful ideas and expansive scholarship.
“This magnificent work is the perfect follow-up to Arthur Hertzberg’s classic The Zionist Idea. Combining, like Hertzberg, a scholar’s eye and an activist’s ear, Gil Troy demonstrates that we now live in a world of Zionist Ideas, with many different ways to help Israel flourish as a democratic Jewish state,” Sharansky wrote.
 “A revived Zionist conversation, a renewed Zionist vision, can help create a Jewish state that reaffirms meaning for those already committed to it, while addressing the needs of Jews physically separated from their ancestral homeland, as well as those who feel spiritually detached from their people. How lucky we are to have this new book, filled with old-new ideas, Theodor Herzl style, to guide this important and timely conversation.”
Troy said that he hopes readers will see the new book as an invitation to appreciate the breadth of the Zionist conversation, from right to left, from religious to secular, over the last 250 years.
“I also invite readers to make this a communal experience, hosting ‘Zionist salons’ in their homes and their schools, in boardrooms and synagogues, reading these texts, debating these texts and celebrating Israel’s 70thbirthday by asking: ‘What does Israel mean to me?’ ‘What does Zionism mean to me?’ and ‘What does liberal nationalism mean to me?’”