Day Six – Nation building and national identify formation

Jerusalem celebrates 50 years since re-unification.

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Today, we visited Mt. Hertzl – including the Hertzl Museum – had a conversation with Dr. Ari Eitan, Chairman of The Ilan Institute, and celebrated 50th year since Jerusalem’s re-unification.

Theodore Hertzl is commonly referred to as the founder of modern Zionism movement.   Dr. Eitan’s work at the Ilan Institute involves working with Heredi (Ultra-Orthodox) youth who attend the Institute’s two-year program where their education is enhanced by leadership and life skills on issues such as social activism, critical thinking and tolerance.

The tour of Mt. Hertzel and the conversation with Dr. Eitan gave us a better understanding of both the founding of the State of Israel and the nature of the more conservative religious members.

Mt. Hertzl and the Hertzl Museum

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Theodore Hertzl was:

 an Austro-Hungarian journalist, playwright, political activist, and writer who was one of the fathers of modern political Zionism. Herzl formed the World Zionist Organization and promoted Jewish migration to Palestine in an effort to form a Jewish state. Though he died long before its establishment, he is generally considered a father of the State of Israel, formed in 1948 (from Wikipedia)

Travel to the museum: a short cab drive to the east.

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The museum provided a delightful and most effective theatrical re-creation of the life of Hertzl from the first awakening of Zionistic sentiments until his death, 30 years before the birth of the nation of Israel.  The story is told using the tutelage of an actor hired to represent Hertzl onstage.  Through various encounters with the director and Hertzl consultant, the actor learns of the development of the “inner motivation” for Zionism in Hertzl as he prepares to portray him onstage.

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Through the theatrical performance, the story is told of how Hertlz became convinced that only the creation and inhabitation of a State of Israel would provide the necessary support and protection for the Jews in an increasingly hostile/anti-Semetic world.

The museum is situated in the western slope of Mt. Hertzl, which contains, among the beautifully maintained gardens, the final resting home for many of Israel’s leaders, fallen soldiers, and victims of terrorists.

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Our guide, himself a most remarkable thinker and peace activist, led us through grounds, eulogizing, most eloquently, those who had contributed so much to the nation of  Israel. In addition, he spoke most thoughtfully and compassionately of his own work in the peace movement as founder/director of the Sulha Peace Movement.

Dr. Ari Eitan

Dr. Eitan is an Ultra-Orthodox (a UO-ey, as he jokingly referred to himself) who works with this community to assist in making them more relevent and connected to the modern Jewish world.   From a webpage that described his work:

The future of Israel cannot be secure without the Haredi (Ultra-Orthodox) sector becoming active participants in the workforce and contributing members of Israeli society.

Dr. Eitan chronicled the development of the Haredi in Israel. This  section from the Hertzl Museum website provides a good overview of the tension between conservative (Orthodox) Jews and their more secular counterparts:

For some Zionists, especially the East European Jewish intellectuals, Zionism was not only a national movement committed to the establishment of a Jewish homeland. It also wished to create a modern, secular Jewish identity. According to this formulation it was not religion that was to provide the basis for Jewish identity but ethnicity and nationalism. The Hebrew language, the land of Israel, Jewish history, literature, customs, folklore and their interplay were to provide a new more open-ended paradigm for Jewish identity. Of course such a formulation was bound to meet with vehement opposition from those who argued that this was a rebellion against the Jewish people’s covenental relationship with God. As the influence of these secularists, popularly known as cultural Zionists, increased within the nascent Zionist movement, their religious opponents warned that future cooperation would be impossible if a single education program was to be adopted by the Zionist movement. They demanded that on matters spiritual and educational, they, the religious Zionists, would enjoy autonomy.

And so as early as 1911, two departments of education existed within the Zionist Organization, one that was based on the secular, cultural approach and the other on the Mizrachi group, a religious-Zionist sub-group within the larger Zionist movement which sought to encourage a traditional religious – but Zionist – understanding of Jewish self-identification. This situation was mirrored in the school system in Palestine and indeed continues until today.

During the question and answer portion of our time together, we asked Dr. Eitan what he saw as the future for Israel.  He replied that dealing with the “Settlement Issue” was critical to the survival of Israel and that the most important was dealing with the religious dimension to the current conflict.  He advocated for “new doctrines” that would, then, “change the religious discourse” for both sides in the conflict.  Current leadership, evidencing both arrogance and ignorance, make progress towards solutions challenging, if not impossible.

As an bonus, as we exited our dinner, we were caught up in the 50 anniversary celebration of the re-uniting of city of Jerusalem.  We walked towards our hostel just as the orchestra and choir sang Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah!!  A crystal clear soprano voice singing  vocalist sang the verses and we all joined in with the chorus – magical!!!Screen Shot 2017-05-22 at 5.27.39 AM.png

Summary

Today was a lesson in the founding of the nation of Israel, both the political movement that gave raise to Zionism and the current construction of its population, with an emphasis on the one-third that can be identified as Ultra-Orthodox.  Current context and conflict aside, it is a remarkable story, to say the least.  Jews, who had been “dispersed” throughout the globe, finding their way to Israel and the role that one man played in that story.  So many interesting aspects to the tale, not the least of which was its beginning, how the unjust accusation of a Jewish French soldier (the Dreyfus Affair) and a cynical reporter covering the story (Hertzl) provided the soil for the seed to grow.

The “story with the story” – that of the Ultra-Orthodox Jewish community – is both equally fascinating and critical understanding the current conflict.  This group of nearly one-third of the current Jewish population drive so much of, not just, religious life, but also cultural and political life.  If there is to be “peace in the land,” then, according to our speaker, this group will play a pivotal, but only as they “change their own narrative.”