By Rabbi Brian Leiken
While Theodor Herzl may be the name most linked to early Zionism, this past year has re-ignited my appreciation for another early Zionist thinker – Asher Zvi Ginsberg who is better known by his pen name of Ahad Ha-am.
At the end of the 19th century, Ahad Ha-am differentiated himself from Herzl by declaring that a future Jewish state would not simply be a solution to a political problem, but a necessary answer to a profound spiritual crisis. With no central land, Ha’am wrote, Jews were being swept up into the dominant cultures in which they lived. Without a space acting as its beating heart, Judaism was deplete of an inspirational focal point. Ha’am felt that Judaism’s survival depended on the existence of a Jewish state, because only a Jewish state could deliver to the diaspora a rich and meaningful Jewish life.
Last February, I spent six days in Israel with thirty leaders from Jewish organizations and synagogues in Rockland County. Our aim was to begin a process of “community-weaving” in which we would recognize our shared challenges and develop shared solutions. Alongside an Israeli firm called Systematic Inventive Thinking (SIT) that helps companies and organizations develop self-sustaining innovations, we heard from engaging speakers, visited sacred sites and developed intimate bonds with one another.
Before we left, people asked —Why are you going to Israel to work on strengthening Jewish life in Rockland County?
Ahad Ha’am’s vision has become a reality. Israel is today the spiritual center of the Jewish world and we in the Diaspora need to understand, connect and experience it if we are to ever strengthen our own Jewish communities. In October of 2018, our Federation is organizing another trip to Israel. As the world celebrates Israel’s seventieth birthday, we will attend the Federation’s General Assembly, visit many of Israel’s beautiful sites and hear from a diverse array of speakers. I hope you will join us for this historic opportunity to be inspired and motivated.