A Grown Up Zionism for Mature Adults

In all of this recent misfortune and horror, I’ve recently been thinking about what it means to be a Religious Zionist, to believe in the State of Israel as the “first flowering of redemption”, as we say in the Tefillah L’Shalom HaMedinah. What exactly does such a belief entail? What does it mean to have a Jewish state, and why do we have one? Why now? And what do we do with it? I’d like to put forth my own understanding of the issues, taking the form of an extended analogy, which you can take or leave, but one that I think can at least provide food for thought for those who give me the time of day. 

Imagine, for a minute, a child who is orphaned at a young age. He’s lost his parents and his home, and he is forced to go into foster care. But there are complications. Every home he goes to, he’s an outsider, someone who the parents had mercy on and allowed him a place to stay, but someone who does not fundamentally belong there. The other kids in those homes, they pick on him sometimes, sometimes they beat him up, and sometimes he’s forced to move to a different foster home, where the process repeats itself. Over this time, he grows and matures, and he begins to think about what kind of person he wants to be when he grows up, how we wants to act, how he wants to run his household, what kind of ideals he will value, how he’ll treat people in his house. His ideas are starkly different from the people around him, sometimes they make an positive impression, sometimes they laugh at him for his strange ideas, sometimes worse. Sometimes he borrows from his own surroundings, noting things he likes in some of the foster homes that take him in. Sometimes his ideas are a reaction to things and people he really doesn’t like. But, everything remains theoretical, as long as he’s still in the care of others.

Soon, however, he starts to consider that maybe it would be a good thing if he went out on his own, got his own place, and started putting all his ideas into practice. And he starts asking the board in charge of dealing with orphans, hey, maybe you can get me a new place, because I’m getting sick of this whole foster home thing, it isn’t working out. And they hem, and they haw, they send him a letter admitting that it’s a decent idea, but they don’t get around to doing anything about it, because there aren’t really any houses for sale right now. So they say, listen, it looks like your new foster home is really trying to be nice to you, why don’t you stick it out for a bit. Okay, says this kid, but he’s still scouting out houses. One day though, one of the other kids in the new foster home flips the hell out and beats our hero within an inch of his life.  The board in charge of orphans visits him in the hospital and says “Okay, this foster home thing isn’t working out. It’s very clear you need your own place. So, I got good news and bad news. We actually got you the house that your parents lived in, which still technically belongs to you. The bad news is, there is someone living in it now. So we split the house in two, and made two apartments. Here’s your key”

(So this is where the metaphor gets insufficient because of wars for control of a house doesn’t really make sense. But anyway.) So our kid, he’s got control of his part of a house that could be said to technically belong to him. Finally, he can put all his youthful ideas into practice. But there are issues. For one, didn’t he want a real, full house for himself, not a house he has partial control over? And isn’t it really his house, really? But he can’t just kick the other guy out, for two reasons. One, he can’t really break the laws of the town they live in. The dude did buy the house, at one point. For another, it would go against those youthful ideals, borne of being kicked out of every foster home he was in, and to kick someone else out of their home seems hypocritical.  But fact is, this guy isn’t so nice, because this guy also thinks he’s entitled to the whole house, so he occasionally goes in and vandalizes our hero’s apartment. So, y’know, it’s a bit of a difficult situation. They’ve tried to talk it out, but nothing’s worked. So does he throw out the very ideals that led him to wanting a house? A small part of him wants to, to abandon any responsibility to his ideals in the face of expedience, to ignore those who condemn him as hypocrites who never were all that concerned about him, but the vast majority of him simply refuses; what use is this house if the you throw out the reasons you wanted it? If something is wrong, does it become right simply because it was done to you? This is symptomatic of a larger problem: When his youthful ideals about what kind of person he wanted to be and what kind of house he wanted to have don’t seem possible for whatever reason; practically, morally, legally, what does he do? Does he throw them all out and just become the same kind of person as all the people that he railed against as a kid? Does he stubbornly stick to them regardless? 

Basically, our kid must now become an independent adult. He must figure out how to reconcile his youthful ideals with the real, dangerous and confusing world, to navigate between selling out and being an obstinate fool, and must be mindful of his own past without being bitter about it. He must take responsibility for his own actions, and deal with any potential consequences on his own. He’s got to buy his own groceries, lock his own doors, and make his own rules. He’s got to deal with other people now, often the very same people who tortured him in his youth, all grown up and very sorry, and know when to trust them and when to distrust them. He has to know when to compromise with others and when to not back down from others, and to differentiate between situations he needs other people’s help and situations where other people should mind their own business, knowing how to say the latter without alienating them, and ask for the former without ceding his independence and autonomy. He can no longer rely on someone else to make the rules for him, to deal with bullies for him, to make decisions for him. He’s on his own now. And in a lot of ways it’s terrifying and an almost impossibly daunting challenge. And he’s gonna mess up sometimes. And maybe he wasn’t even ready for it. But he didn’t have his ideas to have them stay theoretical forever. He believes that he can contribute something to society at large, that he can be a person who other people look at and say “let’s be like that guy!”, that he can help bring everyone to a better place. So he’s gonna try his best to figure it all out. 

Listen, not everything in the metaphor lines up perfectly, especially because many facts are in dispute among various parties, but hey, that’s how I understand it. And I don’t mean to propose any answers to any questions, merely to raise the questions. 

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