A New Zeal for Israel
How will Israel survive? It’s a question many of us don’t like to admit we’re silently asking ourselves. Her future certainly won’t be secured by middle-aged, kosher food-eating, Yom Kippur-fasters like me.
How then? Eight decades ago, FDR rolled out a New Deal. What Jews and Israel need now is a New Zeal.
Zealotry moves history – Israel itself was founded by zealots. Most of the thousands of young Jews like my grandparents who immigrated to the Land of Israel starting in the 19th century substituted the traditions and faith of their ancestors for Zionism: the movement to build a new Jewish State. It was a revolutionary faith that could only be realized by the most devoted of zealots.
And they succeeded wildly: in the face of relentless isolation and hostility, an old-new homeland improbably arose out of sand, rock, and swamp.
But zealotry eventually subsides: with the mission of establishing Israel accomplished, the passion slowly ebbed and cynicism filled the void. Then, at some point during the 1970s, Jews of a certain persuasion began to pin the blame for the endless wars on Israel, with some even questioning the justice of the Zionist enterprise itself.
Meanwhile, the peace treaty with Egypt in 1978 and the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989 convinced many that the Age of Aquarius had dawned, that the Arabs and Jews would shortly reconcile, and that Israelis would soon be wiping humus with pita in Damascus. The Oslo Accords of 1993 were signed in this spirit; Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination two years later seemed to augur the transition to post-Zionism.
But rather than embracing peace with the Jews as the Oslo marketers had fully expected, many young Arabs were drawn in another direction: Jihad – holy war. They filled the ranks of Islamic battalions called Hezbollah, Hamas, Qaeda, Nusra, and of course Islamic State. Fearless and heartless, these warriors were happy to die for the twin goals of destroying the Jewish State and that eternal supply of virgins upstairs.
I lose sleep over Israel’s disturbingly inconclusive wars with the Jihadis. True, the Israel Defense Forces are one of the world’s finest armies. But a Western-style military peopled by too many non-Jewish Jews who can’t quite articulate what exactly it is they’re fighting for, is bound to face problems facing an enemy sustained by the call of Allah.
And too many young Israelis can’t be bothered anymore, opting for futures in America, Europe, and Australia.
Twentieth century Zionism seems to have exhausted its ability to inculcate the sort of passion in young Jews now required for confronting not only the Jihadi armies but the resurgent Jew haters of Europe. At the same time, Israel’s vital overseas support reservoir is vanishing, as assimilation and intermarriage erase much of American and European Jewry – a process dubbed a ‘White Holocaust’.
So how will a liberal, tolerant Israel, largely populated by non-zealous Jews, cope with a determined enemy on the march, certain of its absolute Islamic truth?
That’s where the New Zeal must come in – call it Zionism 2.0: while Zionism aimed for a state populated by Jews, Zionism 2.0 wants a state populated by Jewish Jews, rather than merely Hebrew-speaking Canaanites.
I’m not talking shtreimels, Third Temples or Messiahs, but a rediscovery of the nefesh yehudi homia – beating Jewish heart – mentioned in Hatikva, Israel’s national anthem. Zionism 2.0 is a recoupling of Jewish Peoplehood with its ancient heritage, literature, and traditions – its soul – from which so many Jews have been divorced for the past century and a half.
As it happens, the first seeds of a New Zeal seem to have sprouted: take the New Israeli Guardsmen, a rapidly growing volunteer paramilitary force on horseback, protecting Jewish-owned farmland and livestock from Arab marauders. Or the phenomenon of secular yeshivas, accommodating the burgeoning interest of young Jews in their ancient scriptures. On Shavuot two years ago, I attended a study session in Jerusalem packed with young secular Jews animatedly discussing various topics related to the festival.
And the soul of beautiful Israel lives: the daughter of an old (leftist) friend served in an elite army intelligence unit. She’s now returned home from the traditional post-army service, rite-of-passage world tour, to work as a school teacher in one of the poorest communities in Israel’s south.
And the Jewish heart beats in Diaspora too: during last summer’s war with Hamas, many of us witnessed the breathtaking spectacle of hundreds of Jews emerging spontaneously from buildings along Manhattan’s 47th Street, to take on and chase away a band of rabid anti-Israel protesters.
But we need much more of this New Zeal. It’s the only way to confront the Jihadi armies preparing for the next war, the new Jew haters in Europe, and all the terrible challenges our children are certain to face in the years ahead.