Topic: The changing nature of Israeli society: Are we living in a post-Zionist era?
Goal: To have the chanichim think about what Zionism means to them and to show that even though Israel has changed from a country facing military and technological difficulties to a high-tech, modern, well-armed nation does not mean that Zionism is dead.
This is a chance to discuss some ideals of Zionism versus reality of life in Israel today by focusing on Israel’s growing commercialization and materialism. The changing nature of the face of Israeli society means that many of the ideals of Zionism may be outdated. Indeed, many people now say that Zionism is dead and we are living in a post-Zionist era. This discussion should help us determine what lies behind that statement and what truth lies in it.
Start off with a scenario that you think will provoke strong reactions. Try one or a couple of these (or your own):
- McDonalds opens up overlooking the Kotel; will deliver anywhere in Old City.
- 18-year olds refuse to serve in the army because they don’t believe in war.
- Someone makes aliyah to work the land but cannot get a job because only Arab workers are hired for those kind of jobs.
These scenarios should produce a discussion in which the chanichim reveal some of what they think Israel should be. They might not like the first scenario because McDonalds is such a symbol of non-kosher food. The other two scenarios might raise concerns that contemporary Israelis are less patriotic/idealistic because the threat of war is less than before and technology is replacing agriculture as defining Israeli society. Then again, maybe they’ll think those three scenarios are fine. Either way, it should start producing a picture of Israel that can lead to the next question:
What makes Israel special? Yes, it is the Promised Land, but what is it about the place itself that makes it holy/good/unique?
How would you feel about the following developments happening in Israel?
· MacDonalds restaurants (kosher and non-kosher) open up all over Israel
· After peace deals come through, the Israeli army stops drafting everyone and is limited to a small elite force
· Gap stores open up all over Israel
· Kibbutzim close down and Arabs are hired to work the land
· Ally McBeal airs on Israeli TV
· Israelis become more polite and mind their own business more
· Israel become the most technologically advanced country in the world
· Sunday becomes a day off work like in America
· Israeli radio starts an all-English popular music channel
Let people debate these a little. There are several ideas that either you or (preferably) the chanichim should be raising. On the one hand, all of the above might be positive developments. It would be nice to be able to find good clothes in Israel, or to not worry about your child getting killed in the army or getting ideas from somewhere that they should become garbage collectors. On the other hand, what happened to all the idealistic ideas found in the old Zionist songs that used to be sung? Are the modern developments in Israel compromising the character of the state? Which aspects are compromising and which ones are improving? Both? Neither? What would happen to Israel if all of those things happened?
As Israel starts to worry less about security and more about technology and commercial stuff, all the old ideals seem to be fading away. You may want to read with your group the following article by Professor Monty Penkower on “Post-Zionism”.
The following article is excerpted from Professor Monty Penkower’s article in a symposium on “post-Zionism” in Midstream magazine, November 1995.
Are we entering a post-Zionist era? For many, a Rabin-Arafat handshake on the White House lawn in September 1993, followed by a peace treaty between Israel and Jordan one year later, signaled the end to a heroic period of nation-building. In this view, the dramatic struggle for almost a half-century to reestablish Israel as world Jewry’s territorial center has reached closure. Education and technology, rhapsodizes foreign minister Peres, will count for more than borders in a new neighborly Middle East of shared creativity and growth.
The domestic Israel scene amply strengthens this post-ideological stance. In an age of liberalism, concern for personal life is rapidly expanding at the expense of the collective, with even the traditionally glamorized “citizen’s army” gradually becoming more of a profession than a mission. Venerable institutions and state-builders are assailed; the purity of Israel, the words of “Hatikva”, the country’s flag itself – all are now open to question. Everything Jewish suddenly seems ripe for revision, if not outright derision. Relative affluence and the aping of Western norms have sparked secular youth to identify with the new McIsrael.
Can we no longer be Zionists now that Israel is a developed and wealthy country? The conclusion at the end of this sicha should be that as Israel changes, our belief in it and goals for it do not have to be different. Torah V’Avodah is about building a model society in the land of Israel. It should be a true Jewish homeland. The main thing to get across as you discuss this is that Zionism isn’t just about old Zionist songs and other romanticized pictures of Israeli heroism. You just need to love Israel – you don’t need to stop shopping at the Gap. What was needed fifty years ago was agriculture. What is needed now is technology. The love of Israel and the desire to make it that special place for us should be able to remain the same. Nonetheless, it is important to think about whether or not there are places where we should draw the line. By giving up certain things do we become a nation like any other? Try to figure out what is important and what is not.