Books Israel

What’s in an Anniversary?

In anticipation of the release of CCAR Press’s newest book, The Fragile Dialogue: New Voices of Liberal Zionism, we’ve invited several of the book’s contributors to share how the book came together. The book is officially available for pre-order now from CCAR Press. 

On the occasion of Israel’s 8th anniversary Rav Joseph Soloveitchik gave a series of landmark lectures which were later compiled and called “Kol Dodi Dofek” or “The Voice of my Beloved Hearkens.” This quickly became a seminal document in the canon of Religious Zionism which examines clear manifestations of God’s presence in modern historical events. This visionary rabbi – tasked with the mission to rebuild the Orthodox community in a post-Shoah reality – realized that merely 8 years after the establishment of the State of Israel, we were already seeing a drifting apart between the two largest Jewish communities in the world, Israel and North America.  His hope was that these two communities would operate as if they were a person with one body and two heads.[1] Soloveitchik’s argument boiled down is a basic תוכחה (rebuke) or clever commentary on Israeli and American Jewish life that accuses Israelis of being too focused on peoplehood thereby, being weak on Torah values, and American Jews for being weak on peoplehood and mutual responsibility while being overly focused on Religion.  His is a statement claiming that the early development of these two polarities could set a course of furthering one from the other and creating an insurmountable metaphoric (and physical) distance between the two communities.

This year, a year of fortuitous and fateful anniversaries, would that we could reflect back upon the Rav’s assessment and thankfully extol how wrong he was.  But alas…

This year much of the Israel-oriented and Zionist world is hyper-focused on 5777 being:

120 years since the first World Zionist Congress

100 years since the Balfour Declaration

70 years the UN vote to accept the Partition plan on November 29th

50 years since the Six Day war

40 years since the “מהפך”  (the revolutionary moment when Menachem Begin and the Likud rose to power reversing the establishment rule of the Labor party), and the establishment of ARZA(!)

30 years since the first Intifada…

All leading up to the 70th anniversary of the State of Israel which we will celebrate in 5778.

Anniversaries are important, as they mark milestones and offer opportunities for individual and collective heshbon nefesh. They allow to us pause, zoom out and ask ourselves what has happened in the past 100 or 50 years, and whether we have achieved our goals, strayed dangerously from the path of righteousness and justice, or engineer a necessary cause for celebration and affirmation that we fell on the right side of history.

Of all the anniversaries that we mark this year, the Balfour declaration and the Six Day war have been highlighted as the source of discussion, debate and convenient conferencing and teaching. These are important opportunities for engagement with our students, congregants and fellow Jews but we must not let them be used out of context or glorified for more than they are. Use this moment to teach, to read books and evaluate the current situation.  Is this moment a cause for celebration?  There is no question in my mind that it is.  Is this moment a cause for consternation, concern and recognition and that Israel has reached a point of no return, also true? A century after the British Empire awarded us with favour the “establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people,” do we not also recognize that Sir Henry McMahon made a similar promise to Hussein bin Ali, Sharif of Mecca who then saw the Balfour Declaration as a violation of previous agreements made in their correspondence?  Do we see the Six Day War only in the light of the miraculous victory that saved the State of Israel from imminent destruction, or do we view this moment as the predicate to the military rule over another people?

The answer, I hope, is “Yes, and…”.

Yes, this is cause for celebration and cause for concern and let us not forget that Zionism is about creating the exemplary society that the pioneers romanticized.  It is about liberation, self-determination and creating a society based on the principles of חסד  (chesed – loving kindness) and צדק (tzedek – justice), ones that we hope will prevail for the next 50, 70 and 100 years.  As our contemporary Zionist leader Anat Hoffman often reminds us, that “love is what remains after we know the truth.”  Seek the truth, teach it and preach it, and instill the love that is at the core of who we are and what we do.

Happy anniversaries.

Rabbi Josh Weinberg is the President of ARZA, the Association of Reform Zionists of America, and is a contributor to The Fragile Dialogue: New Voices of Liberal Zionism, now available for pre-order from CCAR Press. 


[1] Shared Suffering: A logical, and natural, consequence of the awareness of a shared predicament would be a commonality of anguish; the sharing by all Jews of each other’s suffering. To illustrate this point, the Rav utilizes a midrash based upon the discussion of the legacy to which a man with two heads is entitled (based on a parable in BT Menahot 37a).
The situations begs the question that if he should receive two shares, or just one; does he constitute two separate entities inhabiting the same body, or just a single entity with diverse appearances?
Answer:   The answer is to have boiling water poured on one of the heads. If it alone cries out in pain, then it is truly separate from the other; if both experience the agony, however, then there is but one.



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