For whom the shofar tolls

Every two weeks, young adults come together from all over the country to study classic Zionist texts and to debate if and how Zionist principles should be applied today.

Shofar blown at western wall 370 (photo credit: Nir Elias/Reuters)
Shofar blown at western wall 370
(photo credit: Nir Elias/Reuters)
The Days of Repentance demand collective consciousness – not just individual striving. The shofar, we are reminded, is sounded for national redemption and kibbutz galuyot, the in gathering of the exiles – not just for personal commitment and renewal.
And our society is already struggling with a refinement of goals and expectations.
The “social revolution” in the summer of 2012 was a start, the past elections may have marked another landmark, and there is bound to me more striving and turmoil when current external, existential challenges recede.
Indeed, the more pronounced our deliverance, the more accelerated our collective cheshbon nefesh, or soul searching, is likely to be.
It is widely understood today that socialism as an economic system does not succeed. Every rule has its exceptions, and it would seem that if there is a windfall source of income for the society, such as bountiful oil, a centralized, egalitarian regime can sustain itself for the duration. But barring such exceptional circumstances, the system does not work.
Capitalism seems more hearty and viable as a system, perhaps because it is less dogmatic. Thus, capitalism in the US pre-FDR is not the same as post-FDR and maybe the same can be said for the LBJ period. The jury is out on Barack Obama and his preconceptions, of course, but surely the deep and festering recession caused by the market bubble abuses are likely to lead to changes.
When socialism collapsed in Israel, more than the bath water went down the drain. For mixed in with the socialist ethos were other ideals and values which, together, largely energized the building of the Yishuv, established the state, and put it on its feet. The wellknown dispute between the writings of Berl Katznelson and of Ze’ev Jabotinsky related primarily to the labor movement’s espousal of socialism, but there was also the emotional connection to and identification with historical Jewish sovereignty, the sense of effecting a revolution of Jewish renewal together, the fervor to renew Hebrew as a living language, the ideal of labor and direct productivity as a reaction to the role of the Jewish socher (“merchant”) of the galut, the rebellion against rabbinic traditions, and many other emotions, beliefs and ideals.
It is clear that these crucial ingredients for our tekuma (“renewal”) have faded – at least in the mature circles of our society.
But is their fate tied to the expiration of the socialist and kibbutz movements, or perhaps they are incompatible with the new spirit of capitalism? For capitalism is based on the individual, his ego, his self-interest and his struggle against the natural competitors surrounding him. And this doesn’t mesh smoothly with the collective renewal of a people united to fulfill its common destiny in its historic homeland, where all must strive together against overwhelming odds to strengthen its sovereign society, culture and mindset.
When Jabotinsky proclaimed, for example, that the worker and employer must not act on behalf of their conflicted parochial interests but rather must avoid all disputes for the sake of the national objective, he argues against the essence of the capitalistic weltanschauung, against the very structure of its mechanism. Although he was a liberal who defended the commercial class, he argues that national considerations must trump basic precepts of free enterprise.
My thoughts about our impending national reevaluation have been spurred by the spirit of the season and sharpened by the Zionist Beit Midrash established by the Institute for Zionist Strategies and conducted today in cooperation with the Begin Heritage Center.
Every two weeks, young adults come together from all over the country to study classic Zionist texts and to debate if and how Zionist principles should be applied today.
And the contemporary relevance of these principles is truly remarkable.
These Beit Medrash participants study under the rigors of the techniques of chavruta and pilpul, and spend hours debating passionately where our society must head.
The Zionist Beit Midrash is more than an intellectual experience (and it is surely that): it inspires and gives great hope.
For it demonstrates that the crucial ingredients for our tekuma are alive and well in expanding circles of our younger citizens even as they lay extinguished or dormant in the consciousness of their parents.
I don’t know how to to reconcile national renewal and solidarity and care for our fellow Jews and citizens with a vigorous capitalistic economy, but these young Zionists surely will find the way.
Unlike the differences between Jabotinsky and Katznelson, I have formed a definite view about the differences between Yosef Haim Brenner and A.D. Gordon. For like the latter, I am convinced that our Jewish People and its heritage harbor the raw material and the will to succeed. I am convinced that deep down, we all know that we are united by far more than divides us, that our fate is forever intertwined and that we have no choice but to succeed together as a united people.
The author, an attorney in Israel and the US, is the founding president of the Institute for Zionist Strategies.