In one of the most important historical documents in the history of Zionism, Theodore Herzl wrote “A state is created by a nation’s struggle for existence.” Herzl could not have been more correct. The nation of Israel has existed since the days of Abraham. The state of Israel as we know it today was born out of our struggles. It was born first out of the European struggle with Anti-Semitism. The state was born again in 1948, 1956, 1967, 1973 and at every other time it struggled with war. We watch today as it is born again and again with struggles that every state must face. With most of these struggles and re-births, all we can do from our very comfortable seat in the diaspora, is pray. But there is a struggle, an increasingly more personal struggle for us in America and at Temple Israel that we can address with more than prayer. It is the struggle for the religious soul of our Jewish state.
To visit Israel for the first time as an American Jew is like tasting a recipe we have known our entire life, but never been able to try. The sounds, the smells, the street names and the peoples’ names walking them, are all familiar to us. In Israel we no longer have to justify phrases like “the holidays” by declaring that they are the “Jewish” holidays. We no longer have to explain concepts like Shabbat or kashrut as though we are bringing something alien into the foreground. Because of the struggles people like Herzl were willing to face, we have a place in the world where we are not different because we are Jewish . . . unless we begin practicing our progressive Judaism in the most Jewish place on earth.
Among the struggles Israel faces is a struggle for her religious soul. For many Israelis this is simply another political tab in the long list of issues any country faces. But for us, this struggle is personal. What is more personal than our faith? What is more personal than the way in which we honor our children, our spouses, our heritage and our connection to God? What is more personal than the words a mother says to her daughter at a bat mitzvah or that a son says over his father during shiva?
In the same famous text, Herzl wrote that, “The people is the personal, the land the impersonal groundwork of the State, and the personal is the more important.” Israel has its struggles over land. It also has a religious struggle, a personal struggle. One that is not about borders and land, but about people and beliefs. It is a struggle for the very soul of the only country dedicated to the Jewish people.
In the past year this struggle has been over a woman’s right to pray freely at the Western Wall and whether a Reform or Conservative rabbi deserves the same authority as an Orthodox rabbi. We know these struggles well because we fought them in our American communities some time ago. We also know that we are a stronger, more relevant and more compassionate community because we found our answers. We know well that an Orthodox synagogue can thrive across the street from a Reform synagogue and that people find prayer meaningful in a variety of ways. Above all else, we know that the relationship we have to our Judaism is personal, not political. I hope and pray for the day when the Jewish state reflects these values as well.
I also know, like Herzl, that it will take more than our hopes and prayers to birth the Jewish state we believe in. Herzl is as known for his visionary words as he is for his actions. In 1897 in Basil, Switzerland, he convened the first Zionist Congress, an international body of Jews that would prove instrumental in the creation of the state of Israel. Every four years to this day, the Zionist Congress holds elections. To vote, one must be 18 years old, Jewish and (in our case) a citizen of the United States. The next election of the World Zionist Congress will be from January 13 – April 30. This is the forum Herzl created for World Jewry to discuss the most pressing issues together. But we do not get a voice if we do not register our representatives.
Please visit www.reformjews4israel.org to register with the American Zionist Movement and vote for our ARZA-Representing Reform between January 13 – April 30. This is an important struggle and we have an invaluable voice. Vote so we can be heard.