ZOA – The Zionist Organization of America hosted its 112th Annual Gala Dinner in New York City last week, and since I happened to be in the “neighborhood,” visiting the tri-State area for an upcoming simcha – I decided to attend.
One of the facts I learned about this venerable organization was that it was launched in 1897 – almost half a century before the creation of the modern State of Israel.
At the time, Jews in various parts of the world were – at worst – being massacred in pogroms, or at best discriminated against, e.g. denied entry into hotels, universities, country clubs and medical schools. In fact some of the best hospitals in North America were built in order to accommodate newly minted doctors who could not get residencies in local hospitals.
The 19th century ideology called Zionism was born – even though for centuries Jewish had been longing for Moshiach and a return to Eretz Yisrael – with the goal of having a Jewish homeland created, where Jews would live their lives with the rights and privileges of full fledged citizens, like their non-Jewish peers in the countries they lived in.
A troubling thought struck me as I looked at the hundreds of guests who robustly joined in the singing of Israel’s national anthem early in the program. Why are we here? Why is there a ZOA hosting a fundraising event? After all, wasn’t the Zionist dream fulfilled over 60 years ago? Haven’t the majority of Jews living today grown up with the reality of a Jewish country called Israel – a country with many colors and favors, peopled by Jews of all nationalities?
Israel has succeeded no doubt beyond the wildest imagination of the Zionists of old – for not only does the State of Israel exist but she more than holds her own in the global community of nations. Indeed Israel surpasses many longer established counties in the uplifting of the arts and sciences, including life-enhancing, cutting-edge innovations in 21st century technology and medical research.
So why hasn’t the ZOA “emptied its desk, shut off the lights and shut the door behind it?”
Because, as speaker after speaker pointed out, including Minority Whip Congressman Eric Cantor (R: VA) and General Moshe Ya’alon, former IDF chief of staff, from the moment the Zionist dream was actualized, it has been forced into an existential nightmare.
War after war was launched against the newborn state, and when she prevailed, despite the overwhelming number of armies bent on wiping her off the map, (how appropriate that the dinner took place during Chanukah) new tactics were used against her residents, including hundreds of acts of terrorism – basically a war of attrition – with civilians (of all faiths and creeds) being randomly murdered a handful at a time.
And in recent years Israel has had to deal with a new battle – a war of words, in which a country willing to slice off chunks of her tiny self in desperate bids for peace is demonized in the court of public opinion. Not just by her long-standing enemies – but by her supposed friends.
And that is why, so tragically, the door of the Zionist organization of America is still open decades after the realization of a Jewish homeland. The battle to defend the Jewish people and the State of Israel’s integrity has not ended – nor is it likely to any time soon. If anything, the growling from the international community grows louder and more threatening and vicious. As the child of Holocaust survivors, I have experienced the births, in recent years, of my late parents’ great-grandchildren with equal dollops of joy and worry.
However, as the story of Chanukah teaches us – we must have faith. AS ZOA president Mort Klein pointed out in a somber but inspiring speech, the State of Israel did not enjoy peace in her the past, nor has she in the present, nor will she in the foreseeable future. However, Israel can exist and thrive without peace – as evidenced by her existence.
The Land of Israel, Klein pointed out, is referred to in the Bible as the “Promised Land” – promised by G-d to the Jewish People.
And the Jewish People are eternal. As we learn from the Maccabees and a review of global Jewish history, we have been marginalized, knocked down, outnumbered, slandered, threatened physically and spiritually, demeaned, degraded, despised and decimated. Yet we overcome, bounce back, fight and prevail.