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Since it’s Holocaust Remembrance Day, this is a good place to start. In my country of birth, 9/10 of Jewish people was murdered. I’m lucky to have been born, but it almost didn’t happen - my grandfather was lined up and shot execution style by Nazis, but miraculously survived.
Overall, 2/3 of Jews in Europe were murdered — 6 million people in just a few short years. There are still fewer Jewish people alive today than there were pre-Holocaust.
More shocking still, had it not been for the Holocaust, there would be more than TWICE AS MANY Jews alive today as there are (per standard pop. growth rates).
How does this relates to Zionism, the movement for Jewish autonomy in Israel? Not 1 country moved to end the slaughter by bombing tracks to Auschwitz & other death camps. Had there been a sovereign Jewish state w/a military that prioritizes defending Jewish lives, they would have
Second, every nation, including British occupied Palestine, shut their doors to Jewish refugees in their most desperate moment. As we fled mass murder in the death camps of Europe, we were thrown in internment camps by Brits in Cyprus & Palestine.
Even the United States and Canada sent Jewish refugees back to the gas chambers and furnaces of Europe.
And this failure by the nations of the world to protect Jewish lives in the diaspora has characterized all of Jewish history, wherein mass anti-Jewish violence has been nearly ubiquitous.
This has sent a clear message to Jews that no one will prioritize saving Jewish lives and that Jews must take the matter of securing a Jewish future into our own hands.
And so we did, founding a nstion which will never refuse Jewish refugees, a home whose door is always open.
Not only will Israel not turn away Jews fleeing danger, they allocate military, intelligence, and humanitarian resources for the rescue of imperiled Jews. Even before founding of the state, the Zionist govt with limited resource ransomed Jewish lives from Nazis.
How many more Jews would be alive today had there been an Israeli State during the Holocaust, capable of rescue and defense? How many of our grandparents, parents, siblings, aunts, uncles and friends would still be with us today?
So part of the answer of what Zionism means to me is purely pragmatic: ensuring Jewish survival.
But this doesn’t quite capture the cultural and religious significance of Zionism.
Religiously, the land of Israel plays an important role. Here are some of the ways:
There are 613 commandments. Many of them (nearly half IIRC) cannot be fulfilled outside the land of Israel.
Jewish holy days and religious festivals are organized around the seasons and agricultural cycles in the land of Israel.
For 2,000 years in exile (galut - the Hebrew word for diaspora) we Jews faced the land of Israel while praying.
The Amidah, the Central Jewish prayer, recited thrice daily by religious Jews, contains the words “May our eyes behold Your return to Zion in mercy.”
Even the blessing after meals contains the line “Let Jerusalem, the holy city, be renewed in our time. We praise You, Adonai, in compassion You rebuild Jerusalem. Amen.”
And in Jewish law, a husband refusing to join his wife returning to Israel is legitimate grounds for divorce.
So anyone making the claim that Zionism has nothing to do with Judaism is either misinformed or is being willfully deceptive.
But even for non-religious Jews, the land of Israel as a Jewish homeland has deep significance. It was the place of Jewish ethnogenesis, where the Jewish people, culture, Hebrew language, etc were born.
And it’s the place where our forefathers and mothers, the ruins of our ancient civilization — our very roots — lie deep in the soil.
So, to me Zionism also means a liberation movement to restore a colonized, oppressed, and ethnically cleansed people to live as a free people in their own indigenous homeland.
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