Ben Shishim leZiqnah

I found I couldn’t let the day go without comment, so here are two old posts of mine written originally for other fora on the subject of the meaning of Zionism.

R’ Aharon Soloveitchikzt”l gave the following parable, to explain his position on the sanctity of “secular” Zionism.

During WWII, a family raised just enough money to get one son out of Europe. They gave him the family heirloom pocket-watch, contacted the Jewish Agency in NY, and put the young boy on a boat. The boy makes it to Ellis Island, and the Agency finds a home to raise the child.

He grows up, and in time, forgot his original family’s faces. But he still held onto the watch, and loved it for the attachment it represented.

Time marches on. He no longer even remembers how many siblings he had, or anything about his parents. But he still lovingly polishes his watch, keeps it wound, cares for it. You always saw him pull it from his pocket.

The man (no longer a boy) hits on hard times. He was forced to sell the watch. But still, he held onto the fob at the end of the chain. He was very attached to that watch-fob even though he remembered almost nothing of what it represented.

40 years later, a brother who survived the war finds him. The reunion is awkward, the man doesn’t remember any of that. The brother is frustrated. But during that reunion, he takes the fob out of his pocket. The brother cries, realizing that even though he doesn’t consciously remember his family, the feelings are still there, expressed on a piece of gold.

I was in Israel for the end of December 2002, mostly visiting my grandfathera”h. I therefore could only grab in short windows of “tourist” time. Much of that time I spent just walking the streets and experiencing its life. Some of it was a quick cab-ride to and from.

One such ride I hopped into a cab with a sticker on the dashboard, a metallic picture of a marijuana leaf. Had I not been rushed, I don’t think I would have sat down and buckled up before noticing. I believe that a pot habit is not conducive to safe driving — especially when the driving in question is taxi-style.

Looking at the little formica sign on the inside of the cab between the front and back doors, I got the driver’s name, and gave Yosef my grandfather’s address and asked for a fixed fare. He wanted to put it on the meter. I told him I’d prefer a flat rate, as I’m on a fixed budget. Yosef was surprised — an American tourist worried about a couple of shekels extra on a cab ride?

In short, being two Jews, we got to shmoozing. I explained that I was unemployed, and was there that week because I couldn’t job hunt during the Christian holidays anyway. That I was there seeing my older grandfather, whose health was poor. Yosef — who remember is a pot-head for all I know — quotes “Do not send us away when we are elderly; when our strength fails, do not leave us.” (Al tashlicheinu le’eis ziqnah… — a well known verse to people used to traditional liturgy.) The rest of the cab ride we spent discussing this verse of Psalms, it’s meaning, the grammar, the emotions, his own wishes for such a relationship with G-d…

Had Yosef been an American secular Jew, he’d probably still be a pot addict. But would he quote Tehillim or even recognize the verse? The love of Judaism that brought his teachers to teach him Tehillim when you and I were learning Orwell or Shakespeare, that gave him the care that goes into discussing it with a stranger, that sense of unity with other Jews that lead him not to treat me as a stranger to begin with… They’re all based in this concept of what Israel is.

Yosef still plays with his watch-fob, motivated by a love despite being unaware of its source.

… THAT is Zionism.

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  1. aharon ruckin says:

    we are all zionists. we all want the rebuilding of zion, we have different views of how to reach this goal and there maybe variations on the final goal but what is fore sure we all in the same boat

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