This week marks the 125th anniversary of the First Zionist Congress held in Basel, Switzerland. In celebration of this milestone, a conference and gala are being held in the very same city and casino where the first Zionist Congress was held. While Theodore Herzl himself is not in attendance, the current chairman of the World Zionist Organization is, along with many other WZO department heads, President Isaac Herzog, Swiss officials, Israeli officials and hundreds of representatives of Israel and Diaspora Jewry are all there to discuss Zionism, Israel and celebrate this very special occasion. It seems only fitting that in honor of the 125th anniversary of the rebirth of Zionism and, of course, in recognition of the upcoming 75th Israel Independence Day that we as a nation should take the opportunity to reflect on what today’s Zionism and the state of Israel means to us.
What Zionism and Israel mean to us
When the first Zionist Congress took place, Zionism was not exactly a trendy idea. It took time, effort and years of work for the idea of Zionism to permeate the culture of the time. Interestingly, we find ourselves in a similar situation today. While there was a period in time where Zionism became a popular idea that ultimately led to the ushering in of the new State of Israel, recent years have again presented a downturn in the acceptance and popularity of the Zionist ideal. Theories as to why this is may vary but I think that the core issue remains the same. There is a lack of consistency and understanding of what Zionism means today.
We Jews are no longer the same wandering, constantly persecuted and beaten people we once were. Of course, we have our challenges – antisemitism is on the rise, Iran is creeping ever closer to obtaining nuclear weapons, etc. But all in all we are a flourishing, successful and strong nation with a mighty country to call our own. And yet, we still continue to find ourselves faced constantly with the question of the relevance of Zionism and the need for the Jews to have their own state.
Imagine if all of us took the time to think about the answers. It is at times easy to take Israel for granted – especially for those of us who were born well after the early days and wars of the state. If the Zionist mission is to continue, we must each recommit ourselves to its values. Really think about the question: What does Zionism actually mean to me and why is it still important?
Most of us know what the core mission of Zionism is: The right of the Jewish people to our own state in our ancient homeland, Israel. But this mission should also account for the global realities of our time.
Zionism is also the seemingly obvious idea that this right should not be globally questioned or doubted. No other nation’s existence is ever up for debate. We cannot allow ours to be subject to different rules.
Zionism is the understanding that we are a sovereign nation that will take care of ourselves under any circumstance. We will never again wait it out while others openly threaten to destroy us.
Zionism is the belief that all Jews have a home in Israel. Aliyah should be a goal for us all. But that means Israel must make the integration of olim a top priority. Israelis must understand that olim belong here just as much as anyone lucky to be born here and they must make efforts to treat olim as family.
But while Aliyah is a core part of Zionism, we must not turn our backs on those who are not yet ready to take that step. We also should not wish for Jews to make Aliyah out of fear. Zionism must also include fostering and engaging Diaspora communities with Israel in a positive way so that we always maintain a connection with our brothers and sisters abroad.
Zionism is the continued fight against antisemitism, wherever it rears its ugly head. Zionism is pride in our country, in our people, in our culture, in our strides and success. It is the celebration of all the Jewish people have accomplished and how far we have come. It is the acknowledgment of our strength and the opportunities we have because of that strength.
The Jewish people, Israel and the Zionist movement all look different 125 years on. But the years have not made Zionism any less important. We cannot forget that Zionism will always have a place and a purpose. This landmark anniversary of the first Zionist Congress and of Israel’s Independence is a perfect opportunity for us to remember where we came from, reflect on where we are and reinvigorate ourselves for all that is to come with a recommitment to the idea that bonds us all: Zionism.