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.
When I sat with David Ben Gurion in his Tel Aviv apartment in 1973, there was no doubt in “The Old Man’s” mind as to what Zionism was: To come to the Land. To build and to be rebuilt. To create a new Jew and a new Judaism in the Old/New Land. He was bemused by the fact that there was push back from some quarters in the Diaspora. All those ‘Zionists’ had come out to cheer BG in London. But then he boarded his plane to return to Eretz Yisrael, and they returned to the London suburbs. So what’s a Zionist?
And then there was the struggle with Jacob Blaustein of the American Jewish Committee. All Israel’s founder had said was that Jews were obligated to settle in Israel. Blaustein strongly protested against this obvious denigration of the Diaspora, so the Blaustein-Ben Gurion Agreement was signed in 1951. Blaustein would support the Zionist enterprise from afar and BG would not (often) criticize that distancing. So what’s a Zionist?
In 1967, it seems that everyone was now a Zionist. Following the victories of the Six-Day War, Jewish volunteers flooded Israel. Youth programs expanded dramatically. Israeli flags flourished on synagogue pulpits across the world. Heschel wrote: Israel, An Echo of Eternity. Soviet Jewry began to flex its muscles. American Jewry was marked by parades, marches and other public events in which our Zionist identities were celebrated with pride.
But with the passing years there were increasing doubts and uncertainties and disappointments. The world was moving away from the fervent nationalisms that described the mid-20th century. Israel became controversial. Some deemed its policy of Occupation to be colonialist or worse. Ethnicity and peoplehood eroded as the individual was increasingly celebrated. More wars. Intifadas. Ethiopian Jews confronted discrimination, as had the Mizrachim before them. As do Israeli Arabs. Reform Judaism was far too often treated as an unwelcome, alien presence. Huge gaps opened up between the very rich and the very poor. Was the bloom off the rose?
The nations of the world increasingly felt free from their burden of responsibility for having incited anti-Semitism over the centuries. But now anti-Semitism was being cloaked in anti-Zionism. And long suppressed arguments burst forth from within world Jewry. Too easily accommodating to new norms for discussion, shouting replaced words; ad hominem insults replaced reasoned disagreement; rage replaced discomfort. We refused to hear anything with which we disagreed. By the second decade of the 21st century, Jews began boycotting Jews over arguments regarding who and what is a ‘good’ Zionist? And whose views were the most likely to guarantee Israel’s security? Battered increasingly from without, we turned on each other.
The Fragile Dialogue: New Voices of Liberal Zionism has the self-assumed role of trying to demonstrate that we Jews must and can learn how to speak with one another about core, existential issues. This book is intended to be a model for Jewish disagreement about the meaning, purposes and goals of Zionism. No more demonization. No more exclusion or banning. Neither Rabbi Englander nor I have any intention of attempting to define right answers, but only to demonstrate that strongly held positions from within the liberal Jewish community both need to be heard and must be heard.
Does anything go? Frankly, No. Our scholars and teachers had to meet one standard: they are firmly committed to the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish and Democratic State.
Some of our authors favor the possibility of a One State Solution. Some favor Two States. Some favor a nuanced imposition of BDS. Some see Israel as a Divine gift. Some reject any claim that Israel is “The beginning of our Redemption.” Some want us to teach Zionism with an embrace of ambiguity; some see the survival of North American Jewry as dependent upon the survival of Israel as a Jewish and Democratic State. They all have a place in this book; and they all have a place in our synagogues, campuses, and Jewish organizations. Open wide the umbrella!
Enough banning of Zionist voices with which we are uncomfortable! Hear each other. See each other. Greet each other with respect. Make space so that our children can find their own, unique liberal Zionist voices – without fear of being ostracized.
In recent days, complaints against the Netanyahu Government over the Kotel and over Conversion have made this book even more important. The language of liberal, religious Zionism can give us the power to state our demands while not encouraging even more distancing or, worse, indifference.
The liberal Zionist dialogue is fragile, but we must preserve it. Larry and I have worked with that imperative firmly in mind.
Read as if our future depends upon it. Because it does.
Rabbi Stanley M. Davids serves as rabbi emeritus of Temple Emanu-El in Atlanta, GA. He is also a Co-Editor of CCAR Press’s newest book, The Fragile Dialogue: New Voices of Liberal Zionism, now officially available for pre-order from CCAR Press.