No Jewish People Without Israel
by Daniel Gordis
Why do Jews lie at the Passover Seder? Across the world every year, we Jews recite the famous line: “Next year in Jerusalem.” But how many American Jews actually mean it? The vast majority of them clearly do not plan to live in Israel, which is the liturgy’s obvious meaning. Why, then, proceed with the charade? On this pivotal night, why celebrate freedom by uttering a lie?
Truths come in different forms.
“Next year in Jerusalem” is not about a plan, but about a dream. And uttering this phrase has long been the Jewish people’s way of keeping in mind both an ethereal ideal and a common national yearning. Jerusalem served as a compass during prayer, but, more importantly, it made for flights of national fancy. For two millennia, as Jews imagined their people’s future, one place occupied center-stage. That place was Zion.
As is increasingly apparent, however, the times are changing. Ours is the first generation in which the centrality of Zion in Jewish dreams is beginning to fade. It is fading rapidly, and we know why.
Part of it has to do with the fact that Israel’s supporters have framed the conversation about the Jewish State in terms of the conflict with the Palestinians. Even among knowledgeable and committed Jews, an oral Rorschach test in response to the word “Israel” evokes responses such as “checkpoints,” “occupation,” or “settlements”—as though the conflict were all that Israel is about.
In response to that, a younger generation for whom war is anathema and occupation is morally unbearable has begun to drift away. Part of that is understandable, but only to an extent. For even when faced with the tragic and interminable conflict with the Palestinians, is it too much to hope that Jews would still find much worth celebrating when they think of Israel?
When the revival of Jewish sovereignty in their ancestral land evokes only images of war, and the in gathering of exiles after 2,000 years evokes no awe, when the rebirth of the Jewish language elicits little sense of wonder, Jews have lost sight of the real significance of Israel’s re-creation.
But this is precisely where we find ourselves. Young Jews today, discouraged by Israeli policies that they cannot abide, either explicitly or tacitly join those who condemn the Jewish State. But they do not recognize that the de-legitimization of Israel will affect them, too, that they, too, have a personal stake in Israel, no matter how discomfited they may be by some of its policies.
What happens to Israel will affect not only Jews in Beersheva or Tel Aviv, but Jews in New York, Boston, London, and Buenos Aires. Why that is the case has to become part of the Zionist conversation, which can no longer be only about Palestinians and occupation, borders and war.