Zionism-My Epiphany

I don’t know why it has taken me so long to realize this. Maybe it’s because my formal learning about Zionism ended at 7th grade. Maybe it’s because I don’t discuss the issue with enough people. Maybe it’s because I have never been in an overly Zionistic environment for an extended period of time, until now.

Whatever the reason, it all seems so clear to me now.

I never understood the seemingly intrinsic connection between Modern Orthodoxy and Zionism. Why is it that one of the earmarks of a Modern Orthodox institution is that hallel is said on Yom Haatzmaut? Why do the Modern schools have Israel committees, (theoretically) well developed Ivrit programs, and aaliya advisors? And conversely, why is that lacking in the more “traditional” Orthodox schools? What’s with the “non-Zionist” phenomenon? Is it truly a tenet of Ultra-Orthodoxy to dismiss both the Zionists and the Anti-Zionists at the same time?

Suddenly, out of no where, it hit me. I finally got it. And I can’t understand why it took me so long to connect the dots. 
Zionism, in it’s most original form, was a secular, political movement. It was, basically, an answer to anti-semitism. Some secular Jews got this notion to create a State for the Jews, and [eventually] decided to put it in Palestine. Now, the rest of the Jews, especially the Orthodox, had to decide whether or not to put their support in Israel, and this was a big debate.
On one side, there were those that said traditional Jewish thought claims that the Messiah will bring the Jews back to Israel on the wings of eagles and that it’s not our place to do the Messiah’s job (!). 
On the other side, there were the Jews who said, we too believe in redemption and Messiah, and we can take an active part in bringing that era. Even when taking the literal approach to traditional texts, they argued, there’s nothing wrong with setting the stage for the promised era. Not only is there nothing wrong, but it seems that in fact this is ideal, Judaism is not a passive religion, rather, an active one. 
And this, my friends, is the struggle between modern orthodoxy and chareidi orthodoxy that exists today. Is secularism something that should be avoided at all costs, or should observant Jews embrace parts of secularism as beneficial tools not only for the mundane, but for the religious benefits as well?

Maturity and Halacha

“Any man who is under 30 and is not a liberal has no heart; any man who is over 30 and is not a conservative has no brains.”

-Winston Churchill (or not)

Many young people, in the context of college, yeshivah, or seminary, like to spend their time discussing issues of policy. Specifically, in the Orthodox Jewish world, issues pertaining to halacha. During the year that I spent in Israel, I had many such conversations with peers about issues as the kashrut status of Rabanut Yerushalayim, saying hallel on Yom HaAtzmaut, and the role of kiruv within the Jewish community. We also discussed things like tzniut and mandatory army service in Israel.

It’s funny how as a 17 year old teenager, I could be SO convinced that my position was right. Most of my opinions haven’t changed objectively since then, but this past weekend, I had an enlightening experience.

I spent shabbos with a family that I respect a lot. I had never actually met them before, but they are the cousins of a close friend of mine. This close friend and I wanted to spend shabbos together, and she asked her cousins to host. It was the type of place that, after being there for only a couple of hours, I felt like I’d known them my entire life. They told me to make myself at home, and I did. The wife and I spent the entire weekend joking around, as if we were old friends. I teased the 14 year old cousin as if he was my own little brother. I spoke with their 16 year old about various options for college (His school starts having college guidance meetings in 10th grade? What??)

The wife is an attorney at a fancy law firm in New York City. She covers her hair outside of her home, but not when she’s at work. That’s when it hit me. I have dreams of going to law school and working a large firm like hers. I never for a minute have doubted whether or not I would cover my hair. Of course I would. The question was always, how? I don’t really like the idea of sheitels. What’s the point of covering hair with hair?
“It’s a way for women to follow halacha, while at the same time feeling comfortable with their appearances” always seemed like a weak argument for me. In Israel, I decided that I would only cover my hair with hats or scarves-a blatant declaration of my status as an Orthodox, married woman.

I started thinking about her situation, and how odd it was that she didn’t cover her hair at work. Then I thought, what will I do in that situation? Wear a hat, like the 60 year old southern ladies going out for tea? Wear a scarf, like a twenty-something teenage wannabe? I couldn’t think of a single option that would be appropriate in a business environment, with the exception of a sheitel, which, of course, the 17 year old me had decided was inappropriate.

Later on, the issue of national army service came up. Of COURSE boys who don’t want to go to Yeshiva should serve in the army, right? Sure, in theory. But Israel is in the middle of a WAR!! Going to the army means signing up for war. Can I really handle that? Do I want to place my children in a position that forces them to be in life threatening situations? No, not really. No amount of Zionism is going to change that. Land can’t bring back a dead child.

Maybe the year in Israel is for exactly this purpose. Maybe the flipping out is a good thing. Even if people don’t end up sticking with all the changes they make in Israel, they will be able to separate the things they do/don’t do because of halachic ideals from the those that they do/don’t do because of personal comfort. And that’s an important distinction.

So I was in Annapolis today…

Instead of outlining my views on what went down, I just want to share some anecdotes.

-I went to Annapolis (was I there in protest or in support, I’m a little unclear. You can see me on this video with the guy with the guitar) with my school’s chapter of ZOA. I arrived a little late, as I had class that I couldn’t miss. When I got there, one of the people I was with asked “where are we?” I looked around, amid the Neturei Karta, Lubavitch, and PLO protesters, and said, “We’re the normal looking ones.”

-One of the people I was with was rather energetic, and extremely passionate about Israel. She handed out stickers with an Israeli flag to everyone she met, including the security gaurds. When she asked one gaurd if he would like a sticker, he said “Sure. Anything for peace, right?” She smiled, nodded, and said “Yup.” As she walked away, she said “Wait. No. No division of Jerusalem. I guess not ‘anything’.”

[This conversation exemplifies what it was that almost held me back from going. I DO support peace, I just don’t think that dividing Jerusalem will accomplish that. My biggest proof is the three or four Palestinian groups protesting the convention. If they aren’t going to be happy with compromise, neither will we.]

-It seems that Annapolis residents don’t really get to see much political action. They’re too far away from DC to go there on a regular basis, and the 2 colleges in Annapolis-St. Johns and the Naval Academy-aren’t exactly known for their large activist population. Everyone was out infront of the conference, protesting their cause of the day. Most of them had something to do with Middle East politics, but in no stretch of the imagination all. One guy was there with a sign that said “Send a piana’ to Havana”. When I asked him what his sign meant, he explained that the trade restrictions with Cuba are such that Americans can only send medicinal aid. Pianos are not included in that category, but he was arguing they should be, because the power of music has been proven to calm patients into a speedier recovery.

-A girl, about my age, started talking to me. She asked where I went to school, and I said “The University of Maryland.” She looked at me and my friends, who were pretty much all dressed in denim skirts and zip up sweatshirts, and asked “What’s the difference between Stern College and the University of Maryland”. Hmmm… Where to start with that one??