The stories in the news are becoming worse and worse when it comes to Israel. Iran is launching war games after threatening to "hit the heart of Tel Aviv" with bombs, meanwhile, in the Palestinian territories, there are threats of a third intifada. People are buzzing with the inevitability of a third Lebanon war and another Gaza war, not to mention Syria, threatening to become more hostile if peace talks don't start. So what does it all mean? Well in simplest terms it means that Israel isn't the safest place in the entire world. It seems as though it's enemies are always growing sharper claws, and that the light at the end of the tunnel for the coveted "peace in the middle east" is merely an optimist's dream. It really begs the question of why do people live here, why do people make aliyah? True there are arguments that say that no where is safe- no one predicted 9/11- and people would have sworn that U.S is one of the safest places to live. People also claim that Israel is relatively safe when it comes to terrorism, most incidents happen in "danger zones"; West Bank and Gaza. A common saying is that you are in more danger crossing a street than from a terrorist. However, when you face the facts, you can't hide that Israel is a scary place. It is constantly in conversation for peace, and therefore teetering at the edge of constant war. There are army bases everywhere, compulsory service, bomb shelters in each apartement, security guards stationed in front of supermarkets, restaurants and malls. So what is it that draws people to this land? In my last blog I spoke about the question of Zionism and it's ever changing structure and definition, this time I want to talk about Zionism in terms of it's ideology; the power of an idea.
Why is Israel so important to people that they are willing to "risk their lives" for it. Fine- let me clear about things before I start- living in Israel doesn't mean you are doomed or something, but it does mean an understanding that you are living under some kind of risk. (Whether this risk be a dangerous one, or you could even say by living without your family or something) I'd like to compare this to the life of the BILU.
The Bilu were a group of young Russians who lived for the Zionist dream. They wanted to establish a homeland for the Jews in the land of Israel in light of recent pograms in Russia, and the growing danger of being a Jew in Europe. So what did they do?- they moved to the land of Israel, before the land of Israel looked anything like it does today. Life was difficult and there were MANY dangers. (in 1882) These young pioneers were escaping the antisemitism of Russia but they didn't have to move to Palestine. They could have moved to America (or Canada :)) and had it easier. They could have lived the American dream; pulled themselves up from their bootstraps and had a much easier life. However, their ideology was stronger than this. They weren't just running away from antisemitic Russia, they were fulfilling their dream, for themselves and generations after them. Your life only has worth with meaning. So why live an easy meaningless life? Their efforts not only helped establish both Rishon Letzion but also Zikron Yakov. They not only inspired themselves but also others.
I think that this answer is the same for many Jews today flocking to Israel. Many Jews have to serve in the army, put their lives at risk, worry more about terrorism and crazy countries like Iran. The question is yes, they take this on, and in some way, give up a sense of security, but what do they get in return? A sense of fulfillment and meaning in their lives, something worth living for. I think that for me, the question I'm still struggling is, how much of a meaning am I putting in my life? What is this meaning? What is this ideology- we know it's Zionism, but how strong is it, to give up our lives in America, our lives of comfort, family and easiness. While speaking to one of my roommates, she told me that as much as she loves Israel, it's not worth it to live here. She doesn't feel anything really for Judaism. Feeling of culturally being Jewish can be felt anywhere, not necessarily in Israel, and therefore ideological needs are met specifically in Israel, but wherever there is a cultural Jewish center. This meaning and fulfillment is anywhere you make it. Even for religious people, the same can be said. Is the center of Thornhill not concentrated with religious Jews, making life really easy, culturally and religiously for Jews? What is it specifically about Israel that fuels our passion for a Jewish state and Zionism? Is it simply the knowledge that Israel is a haven for Jews- but in that case, it can be anywhere- Uganda? So many Jews argue nowadays, that "Israel" is where you make it, and that all Jews can just get a land somewhere in America and make that the new Jewish home. Why here? For religious Jews, the answer is easier, this is our promised land. This is our spiritual center and prophesied state. But this answer is too simple- the BILU were secular as secular can be. They were not only secular but made a conscious decision to reject religion. (This was part of a greater trend of the Jews making aliyah from Europe- they rejected the religious character of their brethren in Europe in a bid to recreate the Jew- as the "new Jew": a secular, strong man.) Also, it's not just religious Jews making aliyah, it is secular Jews too. Why is it when you look at these trends you feel caught up in some historical narrative that is without explanation. An inexplicable phenomenon, that is impossible to describe. I'd like to explain to myself the lure of living in Israel, but I think that it is simply something that must be felt. I'm living here now because I'm enamored with the land of Israel. I think that historically Jews need a land, but this land runs deeper than this. This land speaks to me, in a way that Canada never could. I feel like I'm in a living miracle, something my ancestors only prayed for. The rush of living among Jews and in a Jewish state is inexplicable and putting myself into a historical context excites me more than anything. Even though I'm not a member of the BILU, I'm contributing something; I know because I can feel I'm getting something back.