While volunteering in Israel on a 5 month MASA program, working with Israelis ranging from ages 7-17, me and my fellow volunteers are always asked the same question: why do you love Israel so much that you are living here? They can’t get their heads around the fact that people not only want to, but are passionate about living in Israel. For me, the answer to this question has always been obvious: I’m here because I’m a Zionist. However, as I keep spending more and more time in Israel, my definition of Zionism and my identity as being one, has become blurry- what does it really mean to call yourself a Zionist?
As a Jewish history major, it was always easy for me to identify with 19th and early 20th century Zionism: the need of a Jewish land in the midst of rising antisemitism and the need for Jews to completely evolve from antisemitic perceptions of a Jew. As a politics student I understood the position of post Zionists, or post modern Zionists; that this age of Zionism is dead and gone, but I have always been too ideological to really face this answer. Amos Oz writes in his book, a perfect peace, there is “the eternal and tragic conflict between high ideals and gray realities”. Obviously I chose high ideals. I was stuck in this whirlwind obsession and love for the ideal of the Jewish state- especially when my studies focus on the Holocaust, my emotions and my passions pointed to the obvious need of the state. Not to mention my religious affiliations, which allowed me to see myself in some sort of pre-messianic age; fulfilling the age old prophecies in the renewal of a Jewish state in our land. So basically my Zionism was old and outdated. I wanted to work the land, become a new Jew, and contribute to the growth of the Jewish state- as if it really needed me to survive. I know this basic picture has been many times complicated by history, but the romance of loving Israel in this simple way is definitely charming. The lure of a people getting their hands dirty, and redefining themselves for a fresh start, despite attractiveness, is over. We are no longer the people huddled over our radios claiming victory on November 29, 1947– foaming over our prospects of new beginnings as the UN hands us our country on a platter. World history has gotten in the way- and in order to re-evaluate my Zionism, I must include this in my definition.
I realize I avoided reality because today’s Israel makes me uncomfortable. While I have this innate Zionist love within me, I am also ashamed at so many actions both the government and many of its citizens take. I look away in embarrassment as Jews refuse to stop building on Arab land in the West Bank, or as the government takes years to re-open a road for Palestinian use. I sigh continuously when I read about the religious-secular divide within Israel- as if this land was not made for one people. Yet, despite this, I realize my innate feelings might also be connected to fabricated ideas. It is with this in mind, that I realize I must explore these issues, one by one. While these complicating concepts can definitely make any Zionist uncomfortable, they are necessary for both our growth and sustainability as one. While our grandparents’ generation got the opportunity to lay the ideological groundwork both here in Israel, and in Europe, our generation has the opportunity to tackle and explore the juicy and complicated questions they set up. Therefore, it is with this in mind I now look forward to my journey as a volunteer in Israel, constantly questioning my identity as a Zionist.
Hailey Dilman is a MASA participant, participating in Oranim’s Community Involvement Program, one of Masa Israel‘s 160 programs.