I used to think I was a perfect Jew. And then I grew up.
I am, and always have been, a Zionist. My concept of Zionist, though, has changed.
I used to support Israel in every way. I wore orange T-shirts to support the settlers in the Gaza strip when they were being evacuated. At 15, I spent a semester studying Jewish History and Hebrew on an exchange program. I decided that I was “religious,” meaning that 1) I kept strictly kosher and did not eat anything that hadn’t been blessed by a rabbi, did not eat milk and meat together, or pork or shellfish, or gummy candy. 2) I did not engage in sexual relations, especially not with gentiles. Okay, I was only 15, so to be fair there weren’t that many sexual relations to engage in anyway. But still, theoretically, I was opposed. I spoke Hebrew whenever possible and I looked down on Jews who were not planning their immediate move out of culturally impoverished Diaspora Judaism back to the Holy Land. At my confirmation, I gave a sermon basically stating that I thought everyone who was still in this country (all my family/friends) were either misinformed or morons. Klassy.
I went to boot camp, in Israel, and received the Outstanding Soldier award for my platoon. I was the best shot with an M-16 at a long distance standing target that my commanding officer had seen at the camp. I was the most adamantly zionist “soldier” in the platoon at our educational sessions. I prayed, and I prayed more. I feel like most 15-year-olds were doing sort of weird things at that point in life, I was just doing weird Jewish things.
In some ways, I was everything that Israel wanted me to be. If I had continued on that track, I would be serving in my second year with the Israeli Defense Force right now. I would be protecting my homeland and my people. I was a Jew, and as a Jew, I was Zionist. I would smoke hookah on my nights off and have an apartment in Tel Aviv, Shabbat dinners with my family on Kibbutz, and my perfect religious Israeli boyfriend… (#toomuch?)
I was also an educational nightmare; I idolized the Biblical character Yael.
In the Book of Judges, Yael is a warrior-prophetess/feminist badass. She offers the enemy commander food and sex in her tent. After he eats/has sex with her, the commander falls asleep, and Yael kills him by putting a tent peg through his skull. Basically, Yael uses all her resources – nourishment by food and by her very body – to kill the enemy. I was like that: myopically supportive of a government.
Yael was my role model: She was a woman, she was religious, and she was in every way everything Israel wanted her to be. I can’t really imagine Yael sitting down to think about the ethics of killing the Canaanite general in his sleep. He was the enemy. That is all.
Then I got older. I decided to come to Amherst and “postpone” my entrance into the army. In short, I chose to come to college for myself, not for my country, and with that I stopped being a Yael.
When I turned 17, I took a rumspringa from Judaism. Rupspringa is an Amish term. When Amish kids turn 16, they take a year off from being Amish. They get money from their community and go out to live in the secular world. I didn’t leave my community, but I ate soup dumplings with pork, rekindled my fondness for sour gummy worms, and made out with this Catholic guy from my rival high school. I just stopped thinking about Israel. I couldn’t really deal with the cognitive dissonance, the cracks I started to see in my understanding of my Holy Land.
I became more of a Jacob, struggling with my angels. In Genesis, on Jacob’s journey back to Caanan, Jacob woke up from a dream to wrestle with an entity referred to vaguely as an angel. Jacob then became re-named Israel, a leader of the people. I have always read this story to be an example of how struggling with belief systems, eventually leads to a stronger, saner, and more useful ideology than merely subscribing to a set of beliefs.
I do not support everything Israel does. I do not support the settler movement that I once saw as my patriotic duty to stand up for. I know I will not support some things Israel does in the future.
However, I still do believe that Israel has a right to exist. I am not speaking, now, from a Jewish standpoint or a religious standpoint, but a legal and pragmatic one. Israel is a geo-politically crucial country. Israel is a democracy, is fair to its citizens, and is in that way an important voice to include in the political dialogue of the Middle East. Israel is an economically, technologically, academically and artistically productive country. Israel is also a country that is crucial to the continued existence of the Jewish people. The French need to have a French state (France), the Catholics need to have a Catholic Church (Vatican City). The Jews need to have Israel.
Today I saw a movie with the Amherst Israel Alliance called “Unsettled” by Adam Hootnick. It documented the Jewish-to-Jewish relations between right wing settlers in Gaza, soldiers in the Israel army whose mission it was to evacuate them in 2005, and left wing anti-settlement activists. I found myself at a strange personal crossroads. I could see, very clearly, my past, present and future Zionism(s). I had never really been able to relate my all-encompassing love of everything Israel with my current ambivalences and ambiguities. Watching the movie, though, and seeing these three different types of kids all acting for the betterment of their country in three radically different, nation-splitting ways, I felt I had begin to come to terms with my ever-evolving/maturing support for Israel.
That’s the beauty of Israel Peace Week though. Yes, peace in Israel is in some ways political (although the week, particularly the emphasis on Israeli food, is certainly cultural). But “peace” doesn’t mean just one thing. Peace can be pacifism, or settlement, anti-settlement, or two-state solutions, or one-state solutions. Peace can be Jewish, but it doesn’t have to be; peace can be “Zionist” (whatever that means), but it doesn’t have to be THAT either.
So I’m not a perfect Jew. But then again, there is no such thing.
ConstantLy, Constant Jew <3
PS. Stay tuned for:
Thursday, December 1st. A Harvard Law student is speaking about his experiences while serving as an openly gay male in the Israeli Defense Force at 8pm in Cole Assembly Room (Red Room in Converse Hall).
And Friday, December 2nd Shabbat Dinner featuring Middle Eastern fare from Moti’s with the Zumbyes at 7pm in O’Connor Commons (basement of Charles Pratt).