Yom Kippur Morning Sermon, 5779/2018

By Rabbi Donald Goor

Zionism is an Infinite Ideal

I have to be honest – I struggled as I prepared for today.  Evan and I are so happy with our lives – its great to work part time, to live in an apartment that we helped design and was remodeled for us, to travel a lot, to serve this congregation in Milan, to be living our dream.  No complaints.  We have a great life.  Yet when I look around and see what is happening in the Israel I love, I’m more and more upset.  So today I want to be honest with you –brutally honest.  Share my thoughts, my feelings, to challenge you to think differently about Israel.  

Let me begin with an important statement.  I’m a passionate Zionist. I’m concerned for Israel’s existence. The land and people of Israel are central to my identity.   I love Israel. And that’s what I want for you. To be a passionate Zionist.  But more than that – to also be an introspective Zionist.

I’m also a concerned, even frightened Zionist. The Israel I love is going down a path to become a modern nation state that is antithetical to my values, to values such as pluralism, democracy, even Judaism.  

I grew up loving Israel, proud of Israel.  I remember at Sunday school passing around the little blue box – the same blue box that my grandmother placed each week next to her Shabbat candles.  I was taught a Zionism that is encapsulated in that little blue box JNF box.  Together we will built a state.  We will make real our ancient prayers and aspirations.  We will ensure its borders. We will gather in the exiles, from Europe, the Middle East, Yemin, Persia, Ethiopia.   We will created a thriving economy. Jaffa Oranges- and now Waze – high tech.  70 years of pride. We will build a modern day Garden of Eden.   Hatikvah. We will achieve the dream.  We will come home. 

“And we… even after 70 years…we are not yet there. We are not yet home. Israel was established so that the Jewish people, who have nearly never felt at-home-in-the-world, would finally have a home. And now, 70 years later, strong Israel may be a fortress, but it is not yet a home..

…When the Israeli government attempts to improvise questionable deals with Uganda and Rwanda, and is willing to endanger the lives of thousands of asylum seekers and expel them to the unknown — Israel is less of a home.

And when the prime minister defames and incites against human rights organizations, and when he is looking for ways to enact laws that bypass the High Court of Justice, and when democracy and the courts are constantly challenged, Israel becomes even a little less of a home —for everyone.

When Israel neglects and discriminates against residents on the fringes of society; when it abandons and continuously weakens the residents of southern Tel Aviv; when it hardens its heart to the plight of the weak and voiceless — Holocaust survivors, the needy, single-parent families, the elderly, boarding houses for children removed from their homes, and crumbling hospitals — it is less of a home. It is a dysfunctional home.

[when Israel passes laws that discriminate against the LGBT community, it is far from being our home.]

And when [it passes a Nation State Bill] that neglects and discriminates against 1.5 million Palestinian citizens of Israel; when it practically forfeits the great potential they have for a shared life in the land — it is less of a home — both for the minority and the majority.

And when Israel arrests a rabbi for doing a wedding…denies a space at the Kotel for us to pray, when Israel strips away the Jewishness of millions of Reform and Conservative Jews — again Israel is less of a home.” (David Grossman)

This is not the Israel that I hoped for when I put my quarters in the little blue box, or that my grandmother envisioned when she started Shabbat by putting change in her little blue box.  This is not the Israel that Ben Gurion envisioned when he signed the declaration of independence.  This is not the Israel that I was taught as a child or that I envisioned when I became a citizen.   This isn’t a Zionism of which I can be proud. 

Our challenge today is not to create or defend a state.  Our challenge today is to maintain a secure safe state that lives according to Jewish values.   I am worried that we are busy worrying about defending a state that we will soon find completely objectionable.  Do we really want a secure and safe Jewish homeland that we find objectionable and that looks upon us objectionable as well? 

 I am a proud Zionist, and I am also an introspective Zionist.  its time that we raised our voices and created a new Zionism for today.   

I envision a new Zionism based upon a serious relationship between Israel and the diaspora, based upon a healthy exchange of ideas and values.  Israel offers us strength of identity, a living breathing Judaism.  We offer a pluralistic, egalitarian Judaism based upon prophetic Jewish values.   

To be a modern day Zionist there are action items for us?  1.  We must care. If we don’t begin to care, deeply and actively, soon – we will soon have an Israel which we can no longer support.  2.  We must speak up. As Jews we have a voice – an authentic and crucial voice based upon authentic Jewish values.  3.  Put your money where your mouth is.  Why do we fund organizations that don’t support the values about which we care so deeply?  Before you support an organization in Israel ask:  Have they made statements about pluralism, about minority rights, about democratic values? And yes, put your money where your mouth is.  Support the Reform movement in Israel.  Join a reform congregation as a foreign member.  That’s support for pluralism, for democracy.  Support the Israel Religious Action Center – the IRAC – the Reform movement’s advocacy center which fights for the right to pray at the kotel. It fights against racism. It fights for women’s rights.  Support the New Israel Fund, an organization that funds non-profits in Israel that stand for democracy, for minority rights, that cares about the quality of the state we love.  Support organizations like the Yad B’yad schools where Jewish and Arab Israelis learn together.  Support Shutaf – a small organization…I’m on their board – which provides after school and camp programs for Jews and Arabs – all of whom have special needs.  

These action items aren’t a luxury – they’re a necessity, and the necessity is now.  Time is running short.  Our Zionism must be passionate – and it must be introspective.   It’s not what’s wrong with Israel that’s important.  And it’s not what’s right about Israel that’s important…it’s all about imagination.  What’s important is that we imagine, and strive to create the Israel that can and should be.  

The Zionism of the little blue box is past – we have a modern, secure state.  The Zionism of today is up to us to create.  It is more than defending a state, it is all about the quality of that state. The Zionism of today calls upon us to stand for democracy, calls upon us to demand pluralism, call out for minority rights, fight racism. 

“Israel is painful for us. Because it is not [yet] the home we want it to be. We acknowledge the great and wonderful thing that happened to us, by having a state...But we also feel the pain of its distortion.”

Theodor Herzl was truly a modern day prophet. He envisioned a modern state. And he looked beyond its creation.   He spoke across the generations when he said:  I once called Zionism an infinite ideal…as it will not cease to be an ideal even after we attain our land, the Land of Israel. For Zionism…encompasses not only the hope of a legally secured homeland for our people….but also the aspiration to reach moral and spiritual perfection.  

Zionism.  Moral and spiritual perfection.  That moral and spiritual perfection is in our hands.  The vision is clear.  The challenge has become obvious.  Action on our part is necessary.  The time is now.  

“…”  David Grossman speaking at the Alternative Memorial Day event in Tel Aviv, April 17, 2018.Ofer Vaknin