Thursday, April 22, 2010


The Zionists or The Exile? - Part 2

by Reb Akiva at Mystical Paths

(Part 2)

Israel has been tough on the Jewish people. Not Eretz Yisroel (G-d forbid), but Medinat Yisroel (the State of Israel). Every gadol b'Torah of 100 years ago opposed the zionists and the return to Israel because of the zionists.

The question is why, and has that changed?

This past Shabbos I sat next to a fellow chossid in shul. We were talking about Chabad mivtzoyim (where Chabad chassidim go out to a (in Israel) secular area (or outside Israel to a Jewish but not religious area) and offer a mitzvah, commonly to put on tefillin or something from the upcoming or current holiday (like going in a Succah during chol hamoed Succos).

He told me a little of his background..."I was a soccer player in (southern Israeli town). I grew up not only non-religious but anti-religious. My father was an ardent communist. Now his family from the old country was generations of chassidim. But the zionists (he spits the word as he says it) took him when he arrived alone as a teenager, put him on a secular zionist kibbutz (communist collective community) and sucked the yiddishkeit (Judaism) out of him."

The zionism of the founders of the State of Israel was anti-Judaism. They were out to create the new-Jew, who worked the land, defended himself with the strength of his arm, and built up his own country through his own efforts. The dusty tomes of the past were to be put away as history, the cowering in fear of the diaspora Jew an unpleasant memory of the past to be stepped beyond. Torah was obsolete and a reminder of a time of weakness, though perhaps of some limited cultural historical value.

The religious Jews that came to Israel in the 50's, 60's and even 70's had their yiddishkeit forcibly stripped from them. It was an active program (if not official certainly condoned) to place immigrants in isolated secular situations and force the children into anti-religious educational scenarios. And it worked. Unless an immigrant was arriving with a prepared religious destination (such as going to family in Jerusalem), they were in trouble.

Naturally the religious communities of Israel were not unaware of this. But they were small, poor, and had no political clout. They were struggling to keep schools within their communities functioning and without the secular influence that was doing so much damage to immigrants. They often snuck into the camps and aliyah areas where religious immigrants were being kept, and managed to extract a few children (to yeshiva) here and there - and occasionally a whole family. But it was a drop in the bucket.

While the new-Jew zionism didn't destroy the small religious communities of Israel, a few small yeshiva's in Tel Aviv (that later moved to Bnei Brak), a few chassidic groups in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and the ancient religious neighborhoods of Jerusalem, the effectively ended Torah and Judaism in Israel except for perhaps some thousands in the tiny religious communities who spiritually walled themselves in.

But now we're a few generations later. What's the situation today?

The kibbutzim, the epitome and center of the socialistic communal new philosophy, failed as financial concerns. Their ideals did not translate to the 3rd generation, without the bald idealism the collective couldn't survive as such. The secular zionism of Israel also failed to transmit to the 3rd generation. The heavy communism and secular zionism of Israel faded away, leaving a vaguely defined hollowness (with many Israelis searching for meaning in the East after army service) and an anti-religious sentiment as it's legacy (anti-religious with no foundation or ideals behind it, just a general "we don't like them and their silly beliefs").

The religious sector has grown to a significant portion of the population (20% ultra-orthodox, 15% Israeli style modern orthodox [mizrachi]), and with it has come political influence. Religious environments, kashrut, eruvin, synagogues and yeshivot are in abundance.

In the past to come as a religious Jew to Israel was spiritually dangerous. The zionists really were out to get you. Today the religious community in the US sends their children to learn in Israel to save them.

But the memories of the past haven't faded. Just as the anti-religious sentiment (without a basis anymore) exists in some secular communities, in the religious communities the attitudes are embedded in those that saw what the zionists would do.

When the world changes, some people don't adjust. Some communities have long memories and the past heavily tinges their perception of the present. Communal memory is something Jews specialize in.

Israel still suffers from this cultural divide. And some groups outside Israel, such as the Satmar chassidim who's Rebbe warned of what the secular zionists were going to do, carry their past Rebbe's warning and the result as strong communal advice.


  1. Kind of difficult not to become "non-religious" and "anti-religious," when one is classified with and then persecuted because of one's association with a religion and/or a religious people.

    And, once one assimilates into the secular world, then the religious people they've opted not to behave like end up shunning them! So, why go back to them? Hence, the importance of outreach and why the Jewish People need a Jewish State of their own.

    Everyone needs to obtain a sense of belonging. If they can't conform to their own culture, then they'll find a culture or a lack of culture that they can conform to in order to gain a sense of belonging.

    And, Heaven forbid, when one can't find a sense of belonging anywhere, then one will engage in self-distructive behavior. Eventually, Heaven forbid, their life will become so unbearable that the only way one feels that they can save their life is to take their life.

    I struggle with this everyday of my life. How can one be content with their lot in life if that lot is meaningless and purposeless and one is constantly shunned and rejected for their lack of conformity to societal norms?

    It's no fun being a pariah, so people will often go to some pretty crazy extremes in order to find a sense of belonging, but it's either that or go insane or die.

    And the inner turmoil only intensifies if one is unwilling to conform or one simply lacks the means and wherewithal to become part of a given people. What's left for such a soul? Either you take your own life, Heaven forbid, or you find like minded people and start your own little group or sect.

    Better misfits than a "non-fit." Better negative attention than no attention. Hence, many for a lesser life than a greater life, because only other option isn't much of an option.

  2. BTW, that was a great blog, Rabbi Akiva! Thanks!

  3. So...where exactly do you come out on this issue? Is Israel a good thing or a bad thing?


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