By Steven Perlin
As a Zionist living in the United States, I often question my role in the grand scheme of Zionism. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) defines Zionism as the “Jewish National Movement of rebirth and renewal in the land of Israel – the historical birthplace of the Jewish people”. Yet, there are millions of Zionists, both Jewish and not, religious and secular, that live anywhere but Israel. While I find it to be absolutely contradictory to self-identify as a Zionist and live outside of the modern state of Israel, there are a range of ways to actively contribute to the greater Zionist cause while still being physically detached from its center.
I was at a conference and our speaker didn’t hold anything back. “Your future,” he said to us, “is to do one of three things. You can move to Israel and make a home there. Alternatively, you can work for us. And last but not least, you could be a community lobbyist and go to meetings with your members of Congress and make a difference that way.” I sat in thought at his words, pondering how someone I had just met had already planned out the entire future of my life. Yet, his words did inspire me and have helped me lead me to where I am today.
This person, who shall remain unnamed, was able to in a few short statements, change the trajectory of my life by succinctly summarizing how to be an effective Zionist in America.
This man’s first option, moving to Israel, captured my thoughts in a really profound way. Wouldn’t it make more sense to live in Israel to help build the institutions of which our political forefathers dreamed? Wouldn’t it make more sense to live in Israel and work the land? Doesn’t our Zionist identity become contradicted by our mere existence outside of the Land of Israel? Yet, this does not seem to faze the millions of Zionists who are living in the United States and around the world. The speaker’s first option was directed at those of us that recognized this huge contradiction between our ideology and our actions. Considering that all Zionists aren’t ready to jump on the next plane to Israel, his next option seemed to be a more likely option to so many.
The next option involved the idea of working for an organization dedicated to Zionist ideals. Language, climate, patience, emotional proclivity and economic perspective are all potential reasons for why one would not live in Israel. Furthermore, there are indeed many Zionists content with their life outside of Israel as the thought of moving to Israel would not be a legitimate possibility.
Therefore, from these two realities, Zionist organizations sprouted in America. Their functions were twofold: to show international moral support for Israel and to help Israel financially. Staff members of such organizations fulfills many of the desires and needs to help the State of Israel. Although they may not physically reside there, they feel that their emotional partnership maintains a truly strong bong with the people that live in Israel. These Zionist organizations and their staff also help to fundraise for crucial projects and to promote the progression of settlements in Israel by those who are ready.
Fundraising and providing financial support for Zionist organizations allows for such organizations, in conjunction with grassroots advocacy groups, to be able to spread their messages to larger audiences, locally and internationally. This, in turn, greatly affects the world conversation about Israel, and allows the Israeli government to focus on its main task of protecting its citizens and holding their safety as top priority.
The final option presented to us was the option of becoming a community leader and leading a grassroots advocacy group. This option best suits those that feel most at home in America and who may or may not have the option to live in Israel. These groups of people, like those that are a part of UCLA’s Students Supporting Israel, use their free time to advocate for Israel and work with influential community leaders, like those in university and federal governments, to forge relationships with them and offer a more holistic perspective on current events and policies.
Interestingly enough, one option not mentioned was that of “keyboard warrior”. A keyboard warrior is someone who spends a significant amount of time contributing to social media, commenting on “false fact” posts and online trolls who wish to delegitimize the state of Israel through the medium of the world-wide-web. While sending positive messages about Israel via social media alone seems very limiting, done together with the other options listed above allows it to strengthen the Zionist ideology and individual commitment to the ideology as a whole.
Of the many options available, it is of course optimal to maintain one’s Zionist identity by moving to Israel, however, this is not always an option for many and that is why it is vital to know which options are available. We must all do our part to maintain our Zionist ideals, in what is probably one of the most serious contemporary struggles of the modern era. Whatever the challenges may be, there is absolutely no doubt just how important it is for all Zionists to unite together and work towards a better future for the Zionist enterprise.