Who Is A Zionist?


 In a family of five, one is always an outsider. This is the child who shies away from the camera, goes abroad and stays.  Often it’s the middle child; she can’t find her place. The eldest has a role; the baby takes center stage. The middle one is neither this nor that. So who can she be? Annie Oakley? A  Zionist?

How many new immigrants in their twenties are middle children? All their lives they search for a home, often unconsciously. Then they visit Israel and something clicks. Nobody else in the family even entertains the fantasy of actually leaving their American birthplace. Israel was created for the downtrodden Jews (so Rabbi Silver taught), the ones with nowhere else to go. But the outsider child finds a home on the edge of a desert. This makes her unique. She could be earning below minimum wage as a waitress in a filthy Jerusalem restaurant, her BA with honors in American Culture stashed in a moldy box under her (rental) bed, but she’s Living In Israel!

After the initial shock, her parents are proud. She has joined the downtrodden people to, if not exactly make the desert bloom, at least serve kubeh soup and humus to American tourists.

Does this make her a Zionist? During her first three months in the country, she bought the book The Zionist Idea and even read most of it. She also read Amos Elon’s Herzl and cried when in 1898 young Jewish men on horses galloped to greet their savior, Theodore Herzl, on the outskirts of Rishon L’Zion. But is she a Zionist? Does she believe? Did she throw in her hat with the Fate of the Jewish People?  Does she love the Jewish People and does she have to or was she just trying to solve her own unconscious problem of her place in the family?

Fortunately, now she has criteria to measure her Zionist identity, thanks to the Minister of Education Gideon Sa’ar. He wants all Israeli children to learn that a Zionist is someone who settles (and is then removed from) Gush Katif. A Zionist is someone who believes that God gave the West Bank to the Jews and therefore they have every right in the world to build their homes on every mountain top and pray under every leafy tree, even if said top or tree belongs to the Other.  

The Other? What’s that, ask the fervent downtrodden Jews in Israel.   Only Jews are the downtrodden. Only Jews suffered more than anyone else and longer. Only Jews are God’s wandering pathetic impotent helpless vulnerable Chosen People and as such, are entitled to spit on the rest of the world.

The new immigrant, now an old immigrant, has had time to ponder these things and search her soul. She has outgrown seeing herself as the marginal child, the lost victim. Now she values her nuclear family of five, accepts her parents with all their strengths and weaknesses. She no longer accepts the role of helpless victim in a downtrodden people. She values the concept of home and believes all people should have one.

She built one in Israel, but, according to the current government, this no longer makes her a Zionist.  

About Judy Labensohn

I'm a writer and teacher of writing.
This entry was posted in Identity, Zionism and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Who Is A Zionist?

  1. estherhecht says:

    Thank you for this, Judy.
    I am one of those middle children who came here to solve the problem of their place in the family (only I’m the younger of two, not literally a middle child). But I also believed, and still believe, in a homeland for the Jewish people. Yet there are those who call me a self-hating Jew and blame all of Israel’s woes on my “and those friends of yours” who dare to believe that Palestinians are people too.


  2. tzirelchana says:

    Oh Judy, come off it. Zionism is a fake. You’re here because this is the Holy Land, the land where the Avos (Patriarchs) walked, where the Shehina rests, where the messiah will arrive to. That’s what the sages, wise men and mystics have said for millenium. That’s the only thing that counts not Gideon Sar or anyone eise in the news.


    • Dear Tzirelchana, It’s taken me awhile to figure out how to respond to your comment because I, like Rena thought at first you were saying these things in jest. But I know you’re not jesting. You really believe that we’re here because the Avos walked here and the Shehina rests here and the messiah (small m?) will arrive here. To me, Zionism is not a fake. It’s a movement that took off with T. Herzl who spent the last years of his short life looking for a safe haven for the Jews. He didn’t care much about the Avos or the Shehina or the messiah. He cared about saving the lives of poor Jews. He was ready to send them to Uganda, if need be, until his cohorts clued him in on the Homeland. I doubt that we would both be here today if it weren’t for the movement he created called the Zionist Movement. Lots of people thought he was the messiah, in fact. Re the Shehina, I think she dwells wherever people are kind and accepting of one another, regardless of who their avos were and where they walked. Thanks for sending your comment. May we all enjoy shefa brachot in the coming season.


  3. Rena Yechieli says:

    Hi Judy

    Nice post. Thanks. In our family of four children the two youngest ended up in Israel. I’m sure you’ll agree this makes us neither more nor less worthy than our elder brothers.

    Enough of seeing anyone as victim or victor. It’s a distorting, stagnating lens.

    Every person finds his/her place and values to live which is fine – we are all equal and interconnected, and our actions, large and small, send ripples everywhere.

    Hi Tzirelchana

    I hope your post was in jest but even if not …
    Peace to you as well as to those who have their feet on the (non-holy) ground,

    Rena Yechieli


    • Thanks for your comment, Rena. I agree with you when you write “Enough of seeing anyone as victim or victor. It’s a distorting , stagnating lens.” Unfortunately, it is so engrained in the Israeli psyche, actually the Jewish psyche, maybe in all psyches. Maybe human beings are wired to perceive the world in this duality. But it is definitely distorting and dangerous in the long run, as in It’s either Them or Us. We need a lens with multiple sides, like a prism.


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