In memory of Reverend Abraham Lopes Cardozo z.l.
Chazan of the Portuguese Spanish Synagogue, Shearith Israel, in New York
Who turned his pure soul to his Maker on
Shevath 23, 5766, February 21, 2006,
at the age of 91
The Future of Israel and the Zionist Enterprise – A different look
Nowhere is the extreme spiritual crisis of the Jewish people more evident than in the State of Israel. A loss of purpose and direction has overtaken the fast majority of Israelis and most of its leaders. Confusion and a feeling of hopelessness has become the call of the day among many people. When searching for the cause of this bewilderment it is crucial, however, not to get confused about the confusion. While many may believe that this feeling of hopelessness is the result of Israel’s sudden realization that it has a Hamas state at its doorstep or that Iran is seriously preparing itself to destroy the State of Israel, it is most important to realize that this is to confuse the symptom with the cause. What is at the core of this crisis is a fundamental misreading as regards to the nature and destiny of the Jewish people.
It is the attempt to transform the Jewish people into a normal nation once it has its own homeland which Israelis now slowly start to realize has turned into a farce and which is the cause of this traumatic perplexity. It is exploding right in their faces. Not only has it become clear that the old secular Zionist dream which promised the citizens of the State of Israel that once they had their own homeland, anti-Semitism would cease to exist, it has now become clear that the very existence of the State of Israel has become the main reason for anti-Semitism. A normal Israeli state with a normal army, government and a normal people has not transformed the Jewish people into a normal nation.
At this hour nothing is clearer that the old biblical truth that “Israel dwells alone and shall not be reckoned among the nations.” (Bamidbar 23:9) Whether we like it or not we are not a normal people and we can make no greater mistake than to try to “normalize” ourselves. The Jewish people’s long history is by definition one of existential oddity.
“I remember how the materialist interpretation of history, when I attempted in my youth to verify it by applying it to the destinies of peoples, broke down in the case of the Jews, where destiny seemed inexplicable… Its survival is a mysterious and wonderful phenomenon demonstrating that the life of this people is governed by a special predetermination, transcending the processes of adaptation expounded by the materialistic interpretation of history. The survival of the Jews, their resistance to destruction, their endurance under absolutely peculiar conditions, are the fateful role played by them in history; all these point to the particular and mysterious foundations of their destiny.” (Nicolay Berdyayev, The Meaning of History)
Indeed, no other nation has overturned the destiny of all of mankind as much as this nation. It granted it the Bible and gave birth to the greatest prophets and men of spirit. Its spiritual ideas and moral laws still hold sway over all of mankind, influencing entire civilizations. It gave birth to a man who is seen by millions as their Messiah and laid the foundations on which moderate Christianity, Islam and much of secular moral teachings were built. It provided all of mankind with a messianic hope for the future and endowed the human individual with dignity and responsibility. As no other nation, the Jews gave the gentile world the Outside and the Inside, their outlook and inner life. “We (gentiles) can hardly get up in the morning or cross the street without being Jewish. We (gentiles) dream Jewish dreams and hope Jewish hopes. Most of our best words, in fact – new, adventure, surprise; unique, individual, person, vocation; time, history, future; freedom, progress, spirit; faith, hope, justice – are the gifts of the Jews.” (Thomas Cahill, The Gifts of the Jews.) All of this proves the fact that Jews have a destiny and a mission radically different from any other nation. They are an eternal people with an eternal message and their history is one of extreme “abnormality”.
It is for this reason that the attempt by secular Zionism to “normalize” the Jewish people has failed and always will fail. No nation can live with a borrowed national identity. In fact it is the very attempt at normalization which ultimately threatens the very existence of the State. The desire to escape Jewish destiny by way of secular Zionism has undermined the moral security of the people which dwells in Zion. Now that Zionism has spent its inherited resources, large segments of Israeli society are left with rootless secularism, without memories and therefore without expectations. Wide sections of Israeli society have been alienated from the historic continuity of the Jewish people and have become unsure of the moral validity of our claim to the land of our forefathers. And indeed, there is no Israeli claim to the land, there can only be a Jewish claim. Where there is no continuity, there can be no return. Only in the un-interrupted chain of Jewish generations is the certainty to be found that this has been our land, all through our exile, and that this land has been taken from us by force. Our forever articulated faith in our rights to this land has been our eternal protest against anyone who held or wants to hold possession of the land of our fathers. But this faith is inseparable from our Jewish destiny. Once we reject this fact our claim to the land stands on quicksand. We either turn to the Holy land or there is no land to return to.
No doubt the time will come sooner than later that the government of Israel will realize that it has brought havoc on its people by denying its people its Jewish roots. It will then come begging on its knees for help from those people they have now seen fit to reject: The young religious and tradition loving Zionists. No greater mistake could have been made than to create a serious rift between itself and those communities. The government will realize that these young people together with all those who have a deep Jewish connection to the land, although not (fully) observant, are the ones who are prepared to die for the land and therefore the only ones who are able to restore the land. They are the ones who have a deep love for Judaism and a keen understanding of Jewish destiny. They are Israel’s lifeline. While large portions of the Israeli population have turned against them, the day will come when they will realize that their physical and spiritual survival will depend on these people.
It is for this reason that the leadership of the religious Zionist community bears a tremendous responsibility. It will have to prepare this community for the day that all of Israel will come to their doorstep, begging them for help. It will therefore have to rethink the religious Zionist ideology and make sure that the wellbeing of the people of Israel and their connection with Judaism should be their priority above anything else. They will have to see the land as a means and not as an end in itself. They will have to remove that which is unnecessary and undesired and add what will be crucial. They must make sure that the image of the religious or tradition loving Zionist is one of great integrity and Kiddush Hashem. By that time its members must have grown into a balanced, tolerant and pragmatic leadership which will bring pride to the Jewish people, reconnecting them with the Jewish heritage and understanding that it is in the awareness of the radical otherness of the Jewish people that Jews will have a future in the State of Israel. Once that goal has been reached, it will become obvious that we will be able to stand up against any threat from without. Confusion will be replaced by certainty and bewilderment by calm.