From Dream To Reality: From Zionism To The State Of Israel.

We have dealt with Zionist dreams and images; let us now turn to the reality of the State of Israel. The first thing to say about Israel today is that it is an extremely complex place; in fact it is probably the most complex society in the world. This is not a value judgment. We are not saying that it is better or worse than other countries: we are saying that it is different, and particularly in its complexity.

The reason for this complexity is easy to understand. In the previous section we discussed the different dreams that lie at the heart of the Zionist idea, but not the reasons for there being so many varying ideas of what sort of society the Jewish state should become. It is important to understand this point. Many people were persuaded that the idea of a Jewish state was good, even necessary; however, as it was clearly going to be the only one, they all wanted to impose their ideological outlook and way of life on the as-yet-unborn state. The secular supporters wanted it to be a secular state; for the traditionally religious who had been persuaded that a state was necessary, it was clear that the state must reflect their own outlook. Western European Jewish democrats such as Herzl saw the state naturally developing according to the pattern of the values that seemed right to them.

All the nuances of ideology and world-view that divided the Jews of Europe (where the ideology of Zionism was born) struggled with each other over this question of the future character of the Jewish state. The proponents of the different streams of Zionism jostled for influence within the framework of the Zionist Organisation, founded by Herzl in 1897. Each group of Zionists tried to impose its vision on the movement as a whole, sometimes making compromises of expediency with the representatives of other groups, but never sacrificing the hope that the Zionist state would be formed out of their particular vision.

Thus it need not surprise us that the state was born in 1948 in a spirit of compromise between the proponents of certain groups. It should be stressed that the compromises that were made both within the Zionist movement and in the young State of Israel were not meant to support the idea of compromise as a value in and of itself; rather these arrangements were almost all born of necessity, made by different groups in an attempt to preserve the essential parts of their program. Sometimes compromises and agreements between different groups were made with the express intent of de-legitimizing other competing streams and leaving them outside the arena of influence. Thus labor Zionism and religious Zionism banded together at the birth of the new state, leaving outside the field of legitimacy and respectability two other groups, the Communists on the left and the Revisionists on the right.

However, the story is actually much more complex than the relationships between the competing ideologies would suggest. After the foundation of the state, the doors were opened to hundreds of thousands of Jews who were encouraged to leave their native lands and participate in the new enterprise of the State of Israel. These Jews had not necessarily played any part in the Zionist movement in previous years; neither were they necessarily adherents of intellectual visions of the Jewish state. However, they did have opinions about what a Jewish state should look like - opinions that were as different from each other as the states and societies from which they came.

The key to understanding this is history. Thousands of years ago all Jews had shared certain fundamental beliefs about the character of Judaism, and what it meant to live a Jewish life. Over the centuries they scattered to all parts of the world. Wherever they lived they were influenced in one way or another by the circumstances of their lives. Many were brought into the cultural orbit of the society in which they lived. This process picked up momentum in the last two hundred years as many societies opened up to the Jews and to - varying extents - welcomed them in.

Under the influence of the various societies in which they lived, Jewish world-views began to change. Jews in different places began to understand the world in different ways. Those who were members of societies that began to open up to modern Western ideas of democracy, humanism and secularism, began to alter their understanding of themselves as Jews. Religious ideologies were either abandoned or altered under the impact of modernity for the vast majority of Jews who lived in those cultural orbits. Other Jews who were not part of such societies, including many who lived in societies that remained essentially unchanged over the centuries, took different paths, much closer to their original religious understanding of Jews and Judaism.

We have dealt with these subjects in our discussions about the Jewish world as a whole. Why do we return to them now? This is a new context, in which we are trying to understand the complexity of the State of Israel. Here, in one place - the only Jewish state on earth - representatives of all the different groups gathered together after a hiatus of hundreds and, sometimes, thousands of years. Thus the country became the arena for battles between representatives of all the different lifestyles and ideologies of Jews who had gone through totally different historical experiences, which had left them with completely different ideas of what it means to live a Jewish life.

We have mentioned Beit Hatfutzot, the Museum of the Diaspora near Tel Aviv in two different contexts in the program, in relation to anti-Semitism in the Diaspora (Part One) and the idea of Jewish unity in the Diaspora (Part Three). Let us introduce it once again. There is a room there which represents the reality of Israel and the challenges that it faces very clearly.

In order to understand the significance of the room we must say something about the museum’s general lay-out. It is constructed in an interesting manner. The opening exhibit represents the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans. The suggestion is that - at least conceptually, if not historically - this event represents the beginning of the process of diaspora or exile. The rest of the museum, spread over three large floors, is dedicated to an examination of Jewish life throughout the Diaspora, representing both the positive and negative stories that characterized Jewish life.

At the end of the top floor of the museum, we come to the closing section. This section is called - the gate of return, and it deals with Eretz Israel and the modern state. Here, a Zionist ideological statement is clearly being made. The beginning of the Diaspora was created by the destruction of the second Jewish state; the rise of the third state - the modern State of Israel, closes the circle. The place for all Diaspora Jews to ‘return’ to is the modern state of Israel. There is no other place for Jews to live.

Interestingly, the exhibit ends here. This leads to the only exit from the museum. Again, the symbolism is clear: all other Diaspora communities will ultimately lead to dead-ends. The modern State of Israel, and Israel alone, represents the way forward in history.

The entrance to this last section takes the form of a room with twelve photographic portraits. Each of the pictures (representing the twelve tribes of Israel that are once again being gathered - metaphorically - in Israel) shows a different Jew who lives in Israel, most of whom represent people who came on aliyah from different countries. The text beneath each picture gives each individual’s biographical details. You do not need the texts, however, in order to understand the significance of the room: you have only to look at the pictures. That is when you understand the issue that underpins so much of modern Israel.

Twelve pictures. Twelve people. Twelve Jews - and all so different from each other in every way. There are some who seem to have stepped out of other worlds, traditional societies at odds with the modern world. Others could only be at home in the modern Western world. Some come out of the Eastern world. Some are religious and others are not. The skin colors, the facial features, all are so different. This is what causes the questions almost to ask themselves: do these people have anything in common? All bear the description ‘Jew’, to which they are committed: most have relocated their lives because of that word. They have come to live in the one place in the world where a truly autonomous Jewish society - a state - can exist. They have all come to the one place where they feel that they can really be at home. But are they looking for the same kind of home? Is the Jewish state that each of them has come back to, the place that they visualized? The answer clearly must be ‘no’, because they are all looking for a different kind of Jewish state, depending on the historical and cultural factors that have created their lives as Jews.

It is while looking at the pictures that the final questions hit you: Is it possible to create a Jewish state in which enough of the needs of all these individuals will be met so that they will feel that - in some way - it is their state? Or is the community that one of the individuals represents going to impose on the others a type of state with which the others cannot live? A state where they will feel forever alienated? What is the mechanism - if any exists - that will allow these people, so different both in their lifestyles and in their ideas of what a Jewish state should be, to create a Jewish state for all of them, for each of them?

These are the questions that the room presents to the enquiring observer. They are also some of the most important - and difficult - questions underling the troubled, complex State of Israel. Can you take people from a hundred different Diaspora communities and create a state that will be acceptable to all of them?

The reality is that the State has seen much internal conflict and struggle quite apart from its external struggle against the rest of the Middle-Eastern world, which sees Zionism as an unwelcome intruder that they must repulse. Let us now try to present some of these ideas to the students.


Creating A Jewish State For All.

The aim of this activity is to introduce the students to some of the practical and conceptual difficulties involved in transforming dream into reality and creating one society for all.



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04 Dec 2006 / 13 Kislev 5767 0