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Why We Need Israel (and Zionism)

My Yom Kippur morning sermon about why American Jews need to reexamine the meaning of Zionism and Israel. He argues that we need Israel as much as Israel needs us.


Several years ago, Yotam was working on a Greek island when Syrian refugees were struggling to escape from Assad’s murderous regime. When a boat capsized near the shore and a young child was unable to swim, Yotam rushed into the ocean to carry her to shore. Her father was able to swim and was greeted on the beach by other Israelis who welcomed him with blankets and fluent Arabic. The little girl was reunited with her father and when he realized that his daughter’s rescuer as well as everyone else who lined that beach were Israeli, he said, “My own people and the people who are supposed to protect me are chasing me away while my worst enemy has become my greatest friend.”

This summer I met Yotam. I was in Israel attending the Shalom Hartman Institute’s rabbinic convention. It had been three years since my last visit. I did not realize how much I missed being there and the inspiration I would find there among Israelis. I wish to explore what I rediscovered there. I wish to ponder why we need to revisit the meaning of Israel in our own day and why we need to reassess the import of Zionism for our own age. Jewish leaders spend considerable effort talking about why Israel needs us. Let’s instead take a step back. Let us reexamine why we need Israel. First some background.

Zionism, and the nationalisms to which it is related, have become dirty words...