Jewish nationalism.

As Avraham walked up and down the length of what would later become Israel, the Inheritance and Land of Promise, I wonder if he had any idea of just how ‘controversial’ such an action would later be considered. Where he walked, what he saw, it would eventually come to be the Land, the geo-political terrain that thousands of years later would still be at the centre of world politics. And this piece of real estate holds our attention as Jews, either for or against.. passions stir and our relationship today to this small, singularly Jewish nation and country still seems for so many to be uncertain. Shall we consider our nation as a secular democratic country amongst other Western nations and their traditions, or are is it a Zionist nation? Can we be patriotic, merely historic or even nationalistic about it? In an age where Nationalism as a positive cultural value-creator has become more associated with wars, genocides and even the Shoah, sliding down the societal options as a valid national expression, can we accept Jewish Nationalism?

Today Nationalism once more is on the rise across the globe, especially across the European Union, Russia and the Far East. The old Romantic notions and cultural paradigms of home and hearth, land and identity are resurgent. As if we haven’t learnt enough from history. The Jewish people have singularly learnt where Nationalism leads with its idolatrous glorification of one nation or people group over another. It leads to only one place: death. Usually of many tens of thousands if not millions. Given this historic background, should we even consider Jewish Nationalism? And yet…

If Nationalism has at its base the historic almost quasi religious identification of a people group with a piece of land, then surely Israel, of all nations CAN make a claim to a legitimate form of Nationalism. Our hearts ARE stirred by our Land; it was given to us by divine decree and we would remain in it as long as we observed the house rules. So it is no surprise then that this deep national stirring is taking form in Israel. Recently PM Netanyahu began a process that would define Israel in Basic Law as a Jewish State, and not just a national homeland for Jews. To define it such is to firmly put the flag of a nationalist identity into the foothills of Jerusalem. And why not? There will be resistance of course, not least from those who wish to see a two-state solution with its slow demographic death for Israel. The bigger and more pressing issue of course will be to define and create a working definition of the word ‘Jewish’. For Messianic Jews this is an exciting opportunity to see our national and spiritual homeland become a truly open country to ALL Jews regardless of religious persuasion. Avraham Avinu was not a 21st century Eastern European Askenazi Jewish man. Neither was he of the Orthodox persuasion. He had faith. With that faith he began a family (made up of ethnic Jews and converts) that created and inherited a national homeland. The rest is history. Israel will in time realise that the constituency of Messianic Jews scattered around the world are and will be one of the strongest supporters of our Land. If this ‘new Nationalism’ means anything then it must be inclusive. As Leat Collins in her editorial piece (Jerusalem Post 27.3.14, p5) said ‘The lesson that many in the West took from the Holocaust is that nationalism is bad; the message the Jews took from it is that nationalism is necessary’.

You’re not a Jew unless……

I was shocked, but maybe I shouldn’t have been. I was not shocked for myself as my spiritual skin has grown too thick for that, but for the sheer audacity of hearing someone make a claim that so palpably couldn’t be and wasn’t true. I was told by a representative of an organisation that works with farmers on the ‘West Bank’ that ‘unless I had been to the West Bank I was not a Jew’. Not a ‘real’ one at least… After all, a ‘real’ Jew would have connections with the soil, the ‘earth’ of Ha’aretz, the ‘Biblical’ heartland of our inheritance. Leaving aside for one moment the obvious romanticism of such a statement, a romanticism that motivates many to behave in interesting ways in Israel, it did make me consider just what categories we do use to ‘sub-group’ each other. I suppose we could go on and add many more categories to the above one: you’re not a Jew unless you visit Jerusalem, place a prayer into the Western Wall, eat kosher (according to this or that community’s ruling), wear clothing from a this or that historic time period in Eastern Europe, adhere to various modesty standards, light the Shabbat candles in a certain way, stand (or sit) for Shema and so on. The list is truly inexhaustible. And we as Jews are very good at self-defining according to multiple and complicated variations on a theme.

Of course, there is one category that we CAN use to help clarify an otherwise muddled situation. Instead of applying our own human definitions according to our own likes and dislikes, personal preferences and tastes, maybe we should listen to what G-d Himself says about this. In a startling, yet not unsurprising statement, Rav Shaul declares that ‘not all Israel is Israel’. Not unsurprising because this would not have caused an eyebrow to be raised when it was written nearly 2000 years ago. Everyone was attempting to define the almost impossible, answer the elusive question that has dogged Jewish minds for what seems an eternity: ‘who is a Jew’? In the context of election and promise that is the backbone of Israeli, Jewish history, Rav Shaul summarises that a Jew is one ‘who is a Jew inwardly’. Far from declaring that the external forms of righteousness and mitzvot are meaningless, he radically draws our attention back to what actually counts: the inner world of Jewish values and a changed heart. It is not enough, nor acceptable, to have an external form of Judaism alone, nor even in the above context to have Jewish soil under your fingernails if at the same time life-giving and life-changing Jewish values are absent from your instinctive, motivational, and internal life. To have a circumcised heart, to believe in and accept the Jewish Mashiach Yeshua, IS the most Jewish thing in the world to do and be: a Jew inwardly.

Zionism and Jewish renewal.

It’s taken as read, isn’t it, that as Jews we stand for and support our national homeland, the only place in the world where we can BE Jews, live as Jews and not fear showing anyone our identity. We are all Zionists now.

Zionism is our modern day cultural inheritance, a movement that drove the first pioneers to make such deep sacrifices and has cost the lives of countless of our soldiers and young people since the dream became a reality in the geopolitical world. Zionism, the hope of and for a nation, a place we can all finally say is home. But is that what Zionism is? If so, has Zionism lived up to expectation? What was the actual reason behind it? To ‘merely’ recreate a homeland and then sit back, satisfied that the ‘job was done’? What did we think we were building or recreating? What would be the foundation, the cultural and spiritual Erbgut upon which ‘new’ Israel would be built? And as we ponder now, after Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut, has the dream been realised?

Israel, our nation, has come of age. We have taken our place amongst the nations of the world, become even a leader amongst them in certain areas. Israel is known today for its technological advancement, GM crop sciences and software innovation. It also lays claim to having the ‘capital’ of the homosexual world, of having a social and economic underclass that needed to demonstrate in the streets last year for change, and a growing trend of migration to countries where it is ‘easier’ to live.

If Jewish renewal is to take place then we must begin to take a firm hand to the rudder of Zionism. If Zionism ‘merely’ means the ownership and habitation of the Land by Jewish communities, families and individuals then it should be consigned to history as a successful movement. Israel belongs to us again and this should be celebrated. If however, Zionism means more than that, then its aims, aspirations and goals need to be refined to ensure that the dream of the first pioneers continues to live on today. And what should that dream mean today?

At the recent World Zionist Conference in Chicago these questions were being hotly debated. On being asked what Zionism meant, one young person responded ‘ (it is) a commitment to building something special. It’s not just about supporting a Jewish state or even about loving the country, but a dedication to really turning it into a light to the nations’ (as quoted in IJP p21 Feb 22 2013).

If our definition of Zionism allows for our nation to do no wrong, then we shall fail to fully realise the depth of renewal which Zionism should embody. Returning to our Land was the first step, not the last. Physical residency is the start of a full spiritual return to Hashem, an initial creative event that triggers a brighter glow to our national light and calling. Zionism is a ‘job in hand’ not a job completed. Israel means something, Zionism means something, being Jewish means something, but these meanings only combine to form a vision of national spiritual renewal when we once more return to our G-d with repentance and humility. Israel, as the real, physical, tangible and visible manifestation of the Kingdom of G-d on earth, should reflect its Founder and Creator. Israel IS different.