Toward a 21st Century Alternative Zionism

Mordecai Kaplan, A.D. Gordon, and the future of Israel-Diaspora relations.

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Toward a Post-Post-Zionism

To consider Zionism a completed project, one must limit Zionism to a political ideology and see it as only relevant to Israelis in Israel.

In the spirit of Mordecai Kaplan and A.D. Gordon, there is good reason to reject this limitation. What good is political achievement if it doesn't facilitate meaning and purpose? Additionally, American Jews have what to learn from Israelis, and though it is not usually discussed, Israeli Jews have much to learn from the Diaspora.

Although a majority of American Jews do not consider themselves to be religious, if asked what being Jewish is, the response of many would emphasize religious categories almost exclusively.

This was not always the case. The great numbers of Eastern European Jews who immigrated to America in the first two decades of the 20th century understood themselves to be part of a historic people with a shared religion, language, culture, and value system. But over the course of a century, Jewish Americans, anxious to demonstrate their willingness to be part of the "melting pot," mostly abandoned the notion of Jewish Peoplehood. This contributes to a tremendous disconnect between American and Israeli notions of Jewish identity.

Alternatively, this disconnect represents a significant opportunity by which American Jews can learn from Israelis and vice-versa. American Jews who see Judaism as a religion stripped of Peoplehood, deny themselves the very medium through which Jewish wisdom is meant to be experienced and developed. Israelis, seeing Jewishness primarily as a nationality, deny themselves the wisdom, spirituality, and values that give Jewish survival a purpose beyond survival for survival's sake.

If Jewish Peoplehood represents a dialectic of the spiritual and the national, of values and the familial, then American Jews and Israeli Jews need each other in order to understand the central wisdom of that dialectic. Let us call the enterprise by which American Jews and Israelis can learn from each other in order to arrive at a deeper sense of Jewish Peoplehood, the greater Zionism of the 21st Century.

A cornerstone of mainstream Zionism has been the imperative to encourage Aliya, immigration to Israel. All too often, Israeli Zionists promote Aliyah not only as a valid and meaningful option, but as the only option. One is told to make Aliyah because the alternative is untenable and immoral. In the context of a greater Zionism that does not negate Jewish life outside Israel, both American Jews and Israelis should be encouraged to live in each other's communities.

In this global age, it is not difficult to imagine Americans and Israelis moving back and forth between Israel and America at different times of their lives. In fact, unless we live with each other and experience the real day-to-day of each other's lives and cultures, mutuality and sharing is not feasible.  In the end, how could a true symbiotic relationship have any chance of being achieved without such a personal and human exchange? Pragmatically, if Aliyah is encouraged as one Jewish option among many, the possibility of living in Israel will likely be entertained more readily by American Jews than if it is moralistically touted as the only option.

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Rabbi David Gedzelman

Rabbi David Gedzelman is the Executive Director of Jewish Life Network/Steinhardt Foundation and was the Founding Director of Makor in New York City.