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Becoming a progressive Zionist
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Apr 15, 2021 By Russell Robinson Category: Education,
The future of Zionism and the importance of dialogue
Last week, Jewish National Fund-USA (JNF-USA) did what many thought was impossible just weeks earlier and sent 241 teens – the future leaders of our People – on an EL AL flight to Israel where they would study at our High School in Israel. As I spoke about these incredible students and the journey they were about to take, I felt a sense of pride. We did this. With a global pandemic and a maddening amount of bureaucracy, we brought 241 of our future leaders to the land of their ancestors, helping them reclaim their heritage and connect with the land and people of Israel.
I saw these students at JFK International Airport; they were excited, wide-eyed, and optimistic about their journey. They had no interest in community politics, organizational infighting, or posturing. Their focus was squarely on the future – and ours should be as well.
JNF-USA has always emphasized the tangible when it comes to implementing our historic vision for the Negev and Galilee. We pride ourselves in the transparent way we’re able to show our partners (donors) exactly where their money goes. They can see the firetruck they paid for that’s now saving lives. They can visit the new facilities at our village for people with disabilities in the Negev and see how their philanthropic investments are literally changing lives. And they can literally taste the ‘fruits of their labor’ through the new varieties of produce being grown thanks to JNF-USA supported agricultural research.
However, there are certain intangibles that can’t be measured through data or statistics, especially when it comes to educating our children. We can tell you how many teens were on that flight to Israel. Yet, it’s impossible to gauge how many thousands of other lives these teens will touch and inspire to love the land and people of Israel and Jewish people everywhere when they return. Just think of how many incredible conversations these new leaders of the Jewish people will spark because of their time at our High School in Israel.
Over the last few decades, the very term “Zionist” has developed a stigma attached to it. Individuals and groups who have no interest in Israel’s future or safety have tried to nefariously redefine what Zionism means, with disheartening results. It is an unfortunate reality that some younger people are reluctant to associate themselves with the term “Zionist,” even as they support Israel.
This leaves us with two choices: leave the term behind or reclaim Zionism as our own. We believe that we need to reclaim Zionism as our own, and the best way to do that is through conversation.
At JNF-USA, we’re not here to define or redefine Zionism. We’re here to reclaim it. We want to facilitate the conversation and create dialogue where people feel comfortable discussing what Zionism means to them. Through JNF-USA’s education initiatives, including our $350 million World Zionist Village, a new educational facility in Be’er Sheva, we will reclaim Zionism through the most important conversation our People have ever had.
If you ask 50 Jews what they believe Zionism is, you’ll get 50 different answers, all of them likely valid. Zionism is seeing young Israelis in a coffee shop in Be’er Sheva or Akko. Zionism is being able to visit Masada and feel a historic and spiritual connection unlike any other. Zionism is seeing Ethiopian immigrants begin a new chapter in Israel. The list goes on. I’m sure you can add a few of your own.
Now more than ever we need to come together. We must build bridges and unite our community.
At JNF-USA, we will continue to remain above the politics and continue to do what we do best: support the land and the people of Israel.
Is that Zionism? Join the conversation, be part of our movement, and build a brighter future for our world.
Let’s have a conversation about Zionism. Zionism comes in all colors, shapes, and sizes. Zionism is inclusive, diverse, beautiful, respectful. Zionism builds bridges. Zionism supports Israel, a country where synagogues, mosques and churches all share the same skyline. A country where Christians, Jews, and Muslims live as neighbors and sit around the same table – and while they may have different views, they all have a seat. Zionism is me and you. Join the conversation. Claim your frame, add your photo, and share with your friends using the hashtags #ThisIsZionism & #PoweredByJNF.
Author, Russell Robinson is Chief Executive Officer of Jewish National Fund-USA.