Zionism is Nationalism, Not Judaism

Gwen Macsai, Andy White and Rabbi Brant Rosen at Bookends and Beginnings, Evanston, IL, August 10. (photo: Liz Rose)

How Rabbi Rosen, and the author, shifted from insider to outsider.

By Liz Rose / Mondoweiss
August 17, 2017


I remember sitting in [Rabbi Rosen’s] office at [Jewish Reconstructionist Synagogue], feeling nauseous, scared that what I was learning about — indeed, that Israel is in fact Palestine and was taken from Palestinians — would cause me to question everything else about my life. So much of my identity had been formed around my love for Israel. I couldn’t talk to my family about this. I worried that students from the school where I taught Hebrew, and their parents, were in the building and could somehow hear our conversation, even though the door to his office was closed.


This summer, I’ve been going through crates of old albums in my parent’s basement. Some of the records have triggered more memories than others. A few remind me of college, like Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell. I remember making out with a guy in my dorm room, in 1988, to the song, “You Took the Words Right Out Of My Mouth (Hot Summer Night).” I also found Joan Armatrading’s Show Some Emotion, which I also remember playing after the Meat Loaf guy dumped me. Others, like Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits, remind me of the summers I spent at Habonim Dror, the Zionist summer camp modeled after a kibbutz that I attended in the 1980’s. Often we’d listen to “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” or “America,” or “The Boxer,” while cleaning bathrooms or making breakfast or building a bonfire.

I had forgotten about an obscure record that I found next to my Simon and Garfunkel albums, The Parvarim sing Simon and Garfunkel in Hebrew. The Parvarim were an Israeli duo, Yossi Hurie and Nisim Menachem. They started their career in the 1950’s, primarily singing Ladino ballads and Shabbat songs, but were most famous for their Simon and Garfunkel covers from the 1970’s. The music sounds remarkably like Simon and Garfunkel, only in Hebrew. The album was helpful to me when I was studying Hebrew, and, later, when I taught Hebrew at a public high school. I played the album the other day, and was startled by the memories it stirred in me of when I was a Zionist — mostly feelings of loss — particularly when I played “Sounds of Silence,” and “America.”

Later that evening, August 10, I attended Rabbi Brant Rosen’s book launch for the second edition of his 2012 book, Wrestling in the Daylight: A Rabbi’s Path to Palestinian Solidarity, released this year. Rosen used to be a Zionist, too, and we’ve often talked about the process we’ve both gone through to undo the Zionist upbringing we both had. Rosen, who was the Rabbi at the Jewish Reconstructionist Synagogue (JRC) in Evanston, Illinois, from 1998–2014, was one of the first Jews I approached when I began to question what I had learned and believed growing up about Zionism and Israel.

I remember sitting in his office at JRC, feeling nauseous, scared that what I was learning about — indeed, that Israel is in fact Palestine and was taken from Palestinians — would cause me to question everything else about my life. So much of my identity had been formed around my love for Israel. I couldn’t talk to my family about this. I worried that students from the school where I taught Hebrew, and their parents, were in the building and could somehow hear our conversation, even though the door to his office was closed.

Rosen talked about the need for Jews to disentangle Judaism and Zionism, too, at the reading last week, held at the independent bookstore, Bookends and Beginnings, in Evanston. About 50 people showed up to the event. Rosen’s book is a collection of posts and comments from his blog, Shalom Rav. Rosen intentionally put comments from readers of his blog in the book because he wanted to show a back-and-forth conversation about Israel/Palestine. “I thought that the blog could be a record of how to have a good conversation,” Rosen explained. Rosen began Shalom Rav in 2006. The posts in his book chronicle his changing feelings towards Israel/Palestine — and his increasing outrage at Israel’s 2008 Operation Cast Lead assault on Gaza — while serving as the congregational Rabbi at the Reconstructionist Congregation.

“I raised a little dust at the congregation,” Rosen mused, as he talked about the painful decision he made to leave JRC in 2014. I was a member of JRC for several years, and I remember the arc of Rosen’s career as the Rabbi. We joke now how we both believed, when we were young, that we were going to move to Israel and pick tomatoes in a field for the rest of our lives. Our love for Israel was real. Then, through a painful process, we realized that the myth of Israel we had loved was very different from the reality. Since, we’ve learned how vital it is to separate Judaism from Zionism.

[Read the full article here . . . ]

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