In recent months there has been a lot of controversy over whether “anti-Zionism” is always antisemitic. At some point I will probably do a Kiddush Konversation or Thursday night Adult Education session on this question but part of the problem is that there is no consensus on what the word “Zionism” actually means. And this lack of clarity around the meaning of the term is not new. I wrote my MA thesis on the North American branch of a Zionist youth movement called “Hashomer Hatzair.” Hashomer Hatzair considered themselves to be the only truly Zionist movement in North America because for most of its history, a Hashomer Hatzair member made aliyah after finishing high school or was forced out of the movement. Meanwhile, most organizations in America that defined themselves as Zionist simply raised money for Jews in what was then Palestine but did not promote, let alone insist on, aliyah.
For me, Zionism means no more nor no less than the existence of a safe and independent Jewish collectivity in the historic Land of Israel. Because Eretz Yisrael is home to more than one nation, the borders of the independent Jewish collectivity will have to at some point be negotiated between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs. To be a Zionist is not necessarily to support any particular leader or party in Israel and the two state solution, which remains US policy, is perfectly consistent with a Zionist worldview.
The Israel I love engenders Jewish creativity that draws from the various Jewish cultures which are present in it while in dialogue with the rest of the world. Due to the magic of Bluetooth, I often listen to Israeli radio while driving and a few weeks ago I heard a song that I knew I had never heard before but at the same time it was vaguely familiar. As I listened more closely I realized that it was a Hebrew reworking of an Irish folk song, “The Star of the County Down” which Keleigh and I had heard performed by the Chieftains some years ago. I Googled the refrain and discovered that the song “HaKochav shel Machoz Gush Dan” was recorded some years ago by Ehud Banai, a well-known Israeli singer/songwriter who is of Jewish Afghan and Jewish Persian background. (While Israel has no counties, the word “machoz” is the way the word county is usually translated into Hebrew and “Gush Dan” is the Greater Tel Aviv area.)
A few days ago I found a YouTube video of Ehud Banai performing this song along with Tamar Rada, an Ethiopian-Israeli vocalist. The performance sounds Middle Eastern and African at the same time while simultaneously retaining the melody of the Irish original. To me it represents one of the things I love about Israel and I would urge you to look and listen:
As a reminder, I am having drop-in hours on Thursday afternoons from 2 to 4 at the shul. You do not need to make an appointment -- that would negate the whole point of drop-in hours -- but I’d urge you to check and make sure I am there regardless as sometimes there are unavoidable pastoral or other emergencies which might take me away from the building.
As always, if I can do anything for you or you need to talk, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 301-977-0768 rather than through the synagogue office. I am happy to meet you at the synagogue by appointment. I have been spending more time in the synagogue recently but if you want to speak with me it’s best to make an appointment rather than assuming I will be there when you stop by.
Rabbi Charles L. Arian