[Editor’s Note] Jason Langsner, one of our community members and bloggers, shares his perspective on Zionism today, and his experience at the American Zionist Movement Conference this past November. The views and opinions expressed in his blog post are not necessarily representative of GatherDC, and we welcome readers to share their thoughts in the comments section, or to reach out to Jason to dialogue further at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It is the year of chai (18) – of life – so let us all hope that 2018 is the year that a just and lasting peace is found between the Israeli people and the Palestinian people.
Some signs point to optimism, such as the recent behind-the-scene actions of Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in how they’re approaching a new peace plan with the Palestinian Authority (PA) leadership. Other signs point to continued pessimism, such as how the PA and United Nations reacted to President Donald Trump recognizing Jerusalem as the capitol at the end of 2017, that such a peace will not be found this year.
GatherDC readership, the broader Washington Jewish community, the American Jewish community, and the Jewish diaspora as a whole are not a monolith. We each have different opinions on whether a just and lasting peace can be met between the Israeli people and the Palestinian people this year (or at all).
We are all individuals, who may be tall or short. Our hair and eyes are different colors. Our faith in Judaism may be self-identified as Conservative, Traditional, Reform, Orthodox, Modern Orthodox, Secular, non-practicing, or other. We may be Sephardic. We may be Mizrahi. We may be Ashkenazi. We may not be Jewish, by birth, but we identify with aspects of Judaism or Jewish culture. We may not be Jewish, by birth, but a spouse/boyfriend/girlfriend/partner may be and we want to be supportive. Or we may have converted…
We are all individuals.
Some of us will be attending the AIPAC Policy Conference in March.
Others will be avoiding it and attending the J Street National Convention in April.
Some may be at both. Others at neither. And some reading this blog may not know what AIPAC or J Street stand for as organizations. If you’ve gotten this far in the blog, I can tell you now, that I’m not going to be telling you about either advocacy group or how they are perceived to be different within their organizations or from outside of them.
What I am happily willing to talk about is about my feelings about Zionism, what Zionism means to me today, and some points addressed at the American Zionist Movement (AZM) conference, about how Zionism may be defined into tomorrow.
It isn’t my place as a person or as a Jew to question another Jewish man, woman, or non-binary individual’s motivations in how they express their Judaism; how that may relate to Israel; how they feel about the word, “Zionism;” and how or if that may relate their Judaism to how they look at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It certainly isn’t my place to state any of this in my first blog post for GatherDC in this series – although I’ve happily shared many an opinion in Gather’s blog since it was launched years ago. And, I’ll gladly grab a coffee, beer, or scotch with anyone reading this that wants to chat about Jewish identity, Zionism, or Israel (no matter your perspective).
I’m always happy to talk and to learn from others. And I know when thinking about Israel, I should sometimes consider the advice taught in “Hamilton” to “Talk less. Smile more.” Because active listening and engaging with others from different viewpoints is the best way that I personally learn.
Unfortunately, though discussions of Israel are sometimes, if not often, contentious within our Jewish community. Some synagogues have chosen to avoid discussing the topic as to not create friction between congregants who hold different positions. But my feeling is different. The hard talks are the important ones that we need to have as a community.
It seems so recently that the Jewish people celebrated a milestone year, 2017, which was what brought AZM to DC commemorate and hold conversations around two important moments in Jewish history over the last 100 years.
Last year represented the Centennial anniversary of the British government’s Balfour Declaration on November 2, 1917, which was the first time in modern history that a major world power declared support for the creation of a Jewish State and the 70th anniversary of the UN Partition Plan of the British Palestinian Mandate, which was adopted on November 29, 1947. Certainly, a great deal of history has occurred over these 100 years and I think I may need more than a single blog post to go through those years.
At the AZM conference, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in written remarks read by AZM President Richard Heideman, qualified the 30 years between the Balfour Declaration and the UN Partition Plan as “long” and “tragic” to turn “international support for Herzl’s dream into reality.” Israel Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer, while hosting a reception at the Embassy of Israel in DC, said that this 30-year span that began in 1917 and ended with David Ben-Gurion’s declaration of statehood, “is probably the most significant period of Jewish history since the days of the bible.”
In future blog posts, I’ll discuss the next 70 years including current events related to the U.S.-Israeli affairs.
In hopes of sharing some of the messages about what Zionism means today and what it may mean tomorrow, based on the AZM speakers, I’ve compiled a short video montage from the conference so you – as the GatherDC reader – can infer your opinions as if you were in the room with us. While watching, think to yourself – what does Zionism mean to you? And if you could reframe the narrative about Zionism and supporting a Jewish State into tomorrow, how would you do it?
To me, I understand Zionism as the national movement of the Jewish people that supports a re-establishment of a Jewish homeland in the territory defined as the historic Land of Israel; and that Zionism comes from the root word of Zion. As a noun, Zion is the hill in Jerusalem where the City of David was built and a synonym for both Jerusalem and the Jewish people. I support a two-state solution, but I don’t know what the future borders of the State of Israel will look like – although I have great faith in the Israeli people and all Israeli elected officials who have been elected to represent different views of the diverse Israeli population that they are the best shepherds of their own future.
I recognize to some, the term Zionism is a pejorative. To me, it isn’t. I’m very proud to be a second generation Jewish American and a proud Zionist.
If the modern State of Israel existed when my grandparents and great-grandparents emigrated from Eastern Europe, perhaps I would be an Israeli rather than American. Who knows? I’ll gladly plant trees in Israel with JNF, purchase Israel bonds to support the development of Israel, give to other Jewish/Israeli causes that are meaningful to me, and write about my appreciation for Israel and allow whoever who chooses to read it (thank you for reading this far!) hear my voice.
If you have a difference of opinion to me, I’ll gladly hear you out and I pledge to respect your opinions we search for common ground – such as with finding a path to bring about a just and lasting peace for all people affected by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If you’re interested in dialoguing further, share your thoughts on the blog’s comment section or to my directly/privately at email@example.com.
About the Author: Jason Langsner is a part of our “Gather the Bloggers” cohort of talented writers who share their thoughts and insights about DC Jewish life with you. Jason has been an active lay leader of the Washington Jewish community since moving to the city in 2004. He is a small business owner and formerly served as the head of digital strategy for the oldest Jewish human rights and humanitarian organization in the world. When not blogging, he can often by found walking around his Eastern Market neighborhood with his Jewish dog, Shekels, or riding around DC area bike trails.