Saturday, February 17, 2007

The Logical Conclusion of My Zionism -

In the near future, most likely, a certain question will come up with my cousins, whom I have seen this and last week for the first time in around six years. My two cousins, on my mother's side, have been like brothers to me and my sister since we were born, some of the first people our age we knew before leaving Israel for the States in 1986. Since I and my sister became observant around five years ago, realizing that our family in Israel was not sure of what to think about the change, the time has come for me to finally see our family in Israel after the change. Part of the reason for this post, like many, is to flush out all my ideas, many of which bubble in my mind during times when I am walking or on the bus.

My cousin always knew that I was a Zionist, years before I even fathomed a reality of myself living as an Orthodox Jew. I say with full comfort that nobody in my family knew that I would one day make such a decision, not even myself. My mom told me recently that she realized that I would become observant when I began to speak about Christianity with a degree of anger; why would a young man, around eighteen years old, speak with such fervor about the issues Christianity poses to Judaism. For several reasons the seeds of observance were planted in me, and I thank my mother, father, and my birth in the Land of Israel for basically being the reasons why I could not stay away from that path.

The main point of this post is for me to give written form for how my love of Israel and Zionism found their fullest expression in Judaism. There were several emotional factors in my choice of becoming an observant Jew, but Zionism's relation to this choice is perhaps one of the only factors that was totally tied to a faculty of logic - I saw no real way to continue holding Zionist views if I was not able to back them up with something more than the "run-of-the-mill" secular-backed explanations of Zionism's validity. For years during college I was an avid supporter of the pro-Zionist argument, and I still am, although I've developed my understanding of what it is a bit. Speaking to scores and scores of anti-Israel detractors, I was exposed to piles of ridiculous argumentation about the evils of the State of Israel. I had to strengthen my argument in order to efficiently cut through the falsities of their arguments and the result was that I learned a lot about the nature of the conflict, what was defensible, and what was not. Mind you, I am not using the word "defensible" regarding moral matters - I was and am convinced that Israel has the moral upper-hand; what I am referring to is what the world was ready to hear as valid defenses of the State of Israel, the Land of the Jews. Looking at it from my secular perspectives, which were also relatively Leftist, there were certain dead-ends in the defense of the State of Israel that I could not logically pass without contradicting my own views, the things that I demanded for myself. For example, and perhaps this is the singularly most important realization I eventually had, the nature of our claim to the Land of Israel, as strongly as surely I knew it to be true, was on equal footing with the publicized Palestinian claim to the Land, and the crazy Liberal anarchists with whom I argued knew it and exploited it. Despite that most of their arguments were emotional in nature and gave little attention to ideology that wasn't pseudo-Marxist, I began to realize that my arguments for the fundamental democratic nature of the State of Israel did nothing to provide it with any solid defense. If I was arguing for a democratic state, then I too should have been angered by Israel's declaration as being a Jewish state, for what would be the logical nature of a stance that there is a Jewish right of return, the hallmark of Zionist ideology, simultaneously "flaunting" how well Arabs had it in Israel. It was a crock, and it took me a while to see that. Democracy my elbow - Arabs on campus metaphorically gritted their teeth at me that I had the audacity to stand up there sporting a big Israeli flag telling people that Israel was a democracy when Arabs were unhappy in Israel. What kind of flaky democracy can I claim Israel to be when Arabs have limited opportunity and rights here? The answer? A democracy for Jews, not for Arabs. Israel was dancing around the middle ground of trying to appease its Arab citizens and grasp tightly on to the Zionist ideology, but this was a walking contradiction, and the supporters of Palestinians, who favored the democratic argument, exploited that strange and impossible attempt to please everybody. Even though their motives were driven by dislike, resentment, and evil, from a secular democratic paradigm, I would be forced to support a secular democratic Palestine. I knew in my heart of hearts that that was wrong, and so I had to contemplate my refurbish my understanding of the situation. What line of argumentation could I find, one which I believed to be true, for I had always been a horrible salesman of things in which I did not believe, that I could present to people?

The historical argument seemed especially strong to me; Israel rightfully belonged to the Jews because it was our cultural stronghold, defining who we were, and this transcended our long exiles and total loss of sovereignty in the Land, remaining transfixed even though as the Land lay nearly empty of Jews for long periods of time. This seems interestingly parallel to the religious argument, although I was making basically the same argument without buying into the religious ideologies. What this really shows is that the history and religion of Judaism are inseparable, but my mind was not yet ready to grab on to such an idea. That I couldn't make that particular case from a Jewish cultural standpoint points out the inherent limitations of culture in the acquisition and maintenance of land, for not only had we developed culture in other parts of the world, the culture of Israel had neutered itself of anyway to make a truth-backed defense of its own right to exist, for culture was ever-changing. The Arabs were on to this, being a deeply religious people (as the majority of Jews used to be), and this reason, along with the reason that the Jews in Israel had no genuine way to regain the justice of truth with culture as their only weapon, Israel would be forced to make concession upon concession of its Land to them. In the end, religion is stronger than culture, for religion is a moderator of values while culture just allows for values to seep out and to be replaced by new ones. There is no eternality with culture, for what rights does the Jewish cultural argument have to Israel? We can have a Jewish culture in Tucson, Arizona or New York, New York, or any other coastal city to which Jews have traditionally been drawn like moths to a lamp - why do we need Israel for that? The Israeli culture itself is deeply disconnected from its inherent right to be there, with many Israeli's not being entirely convinced or especially resolute about the Jewishness of the Land. On the other hand, the Arabs are convinced of their religious right to live in and have sovereignty over the Land - is this even a fair competition? Even if secular Israeli's do care, they are not in the right for making any solid argument if they are not prepared to a) stand up for what is theirs, or b) sacrifice some levels of personal comfort and peace of mind in order to achieve a measure of lasting happiness and security.

My mother told me a story when I was little kid. It went like this: during the year, a colony of ants had stored up large amounts of food through consistent work. When they saw the grasshopper, who was lazy, they asked him why he was not also storing food while he was able. His answer was that he would begin storing during the winter, which is when he would really need the food. As long as it was abundant, there was no reason to worry about having it. Come winter and the grasshopper began to starve. Remembering that the ants had a stockpile of food stored up from their work during the year, he asked them if he could stay with them and eat. The ants knew something and were willing to sacrifice a certain level of comfort and untroubled ease of mind in order to live in comfort at a later date. The grasshopper on the other hand, chose immediate satisfaction and the easy path, and the result is that when the hard times came, he had nothing (and his life was at risk). Many Jews are not willing to put forth the energy and to take up the cause of the future of their own country of residence and well-being, choosing immediate satisfaction over future guarantee. In this scenario, the Israeli's are the grasshopper, but the sad thing is that the Palestinians have not merited to be the ants, consistently saving up, for the lazy grasshopper is not a threat to anybody. Israeli's have withered and long since become ensconced in the attempt to have all the things that are currently being promoted as valuable all over the world, primarily the luster of American culture. But American culture will not promise Israel a future and then we will have no place to implant any culture, except for one that we will have to communicate in the Arabic tongue. Further, we are scared, and the more we ponder our situation, the more scared we become yet run around like caged "shtetl Jews," to borrow a friend's term. We act pathetically and the Palestinians smell our fear and yearn for it.

In the end, after a hefty amount of debating myself, I realized that the religious argument was the only one that held water that could not be spilled. The modern politics of democracy would ensure us nothing, not over the religion of Islam, and certainly not over the tactics of violence the Palestinians were enacting, which only served to sparkle the eyes of its victims - such is the nature of abuse, especially on a traumatized psyche; the abused always runs to the abuser. But for secular Jews to make the religious argument as a mere tactic for the defense of Israel would not only be dishonest and therefore a lie to everybody around, including the self, it would turn truth into an unbelievable mockery. Making the religious argument from a secular standpoint is like shooting deafening blanks; the Arabs would know it was a bluff and wouldn't even flinch. The key then is to believe the religious argument, but how could a Jew believe the religious argument without being sold on it, without really believing it? Therefore, we would be required to familiarize ourselves with the nature of the religious argument, in the same way we familiarized ourselves with the democratic one. Our religion holds the key to our survival, but should we become religious in order just to ensure our survival; would that not be dishonest foolishness? If religion holds the key to our survival, perhaps it deserves a measure of attention and analysis; what it is about religion that establishes one in eternality? Perhaps there is an element of truth in the religion of Judaism, and if so, independent yet related to the State of Israel, if it is truth, we should pursue it. But if we pursue it, we should pursue it for its own sake, and if survival of the State of Israel and its citizens will benefit from this truth, then it is only logical that we take steps in embracing it. Through Judaism we could have the real solidarity we Jews so desperately needed with each other, driven by love, for G-d and for ourselves, and so we would choose the religious path for its truth because truth can only yield good things. The Catch 22 however, would be that in order to make the only truly valid argument, after all arguments were exhausted and shown to be unworkable, we would have to cleave to our religion as solely a means for survival. That is, after all, the story of why we are still here. In other words, G-d has sent us a great test; only by cleaving to the truth can we survive, and this means a return to and revival of our religion, i.e.,dedication to G-d, our only support beam in the world. To lean on G-d for survival is the most honest thing a person can do.