Thursday, March 17, 2016

This Normal Life: Rebranding Zionism

Brian Blum,

image from
To someone harboring even the vaguest uninformed negative preconceptions, Zionism might very well be a grotesque variant of nationalism or racism or fascism, which are all definitely beyond the pale of polite society. For better or worse, Zionism has over the years picked up connotations that are just as likely to provoke as to provide comfort and support. ...
Maybe I could sing Israel’s praises about being the Start-up Nation. ...
Not if Rabbi Dov Lipman has anything to say about it.
In an article discussing why Israel’s hasbara – its public diplomacy – has failed so miserably, Rabbi Dov Lipman, a Jerusalem Post columnist and former Yesh Atid MK, cites a recent poll conducted in the US that found that “only 7 percent of respondents are drawn to support a country because it is ‘modern,’ a mere 6% are impressed if a country is ‘innovative,’ and a country which is ‘creative’ means something special to just 4%.”
Says Lipman: “We have been bombarding the world touting Israel’s groundbreaking technology. We have tried to win support by promoting the Startup Nation with its drip irrigation, solar energy, cellular phone technology and Waze. But that isn’t working.” ...
Holidays, perhaps more than anything else, define a nation. Yes, there are important shared values, like democracy and decency, and the moral and legal truths emblazoned in a country’s constitution.
But on a day-to-day basis, it’s not the money, the language or the food of a country as much as the flow of the weeks and months, the punctuation that the holidays provide, that creates a structure for belonging, for cohesion and peoplehood.
And for the Jewish nation, the most important “holiday” of them all is the one that recurs week after week without fail: Shabbat, the Jewish people’s greatest invention. This is not a religious argument. Shabbat in Israel is a day of distinction, no matter whether you’re deep in prayer in the most ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Bnei Brak, sipping a latte in Tel Aviv or out for a hike and a barbecue. ...
If you have a connection to the holidays of the Jews, then there’s no better place – no, there’s no other place at all – where you can live [Israel] according to the Jewish national calendar than right here.
It’s what, despite the deep rifts in Israeli society, has forged us into a single state and keeps us together.
So here’s my modest proposal: The next time someone asks me how I ended up in Israel, maybe I won’t invoke Zionism, with all its baggage, justified or not. This does not in any way diminish my own feelings of Zionism – I will say it loud and strong to the appropriate groups. But ... on the phone from time to time, maybe I’ll respond instead: “Because I’m a proud Jewish calendarist.”

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