(RNS) — It’s not the usual venue for it — that would be a coffee place on Emek Refaim Street in Jerusalem. But I spent about an hour talking with my friend and teacher, Gil Troy. Gil is the author and editor of nine books, including several books on Israel and Zionism — and most recently and most impressively, “Theodor Herzl,” a collection of Theodor Herzl’s writings in a beautiful three volume set published by Koren, as part of its imprint, the Library of the Jewish People.
We also talked about great American presidents (who would you like to have lunch with?), and our mutual American diplomatic heroes, and about what it means to support Israel, even in its most difficult times.
Check out the part of the talk when Gil talks about why we, and our kids, should still emotionally invest in Israel (around 42:00).
When I think of Zionism, I focus on one of my own heroes — a man whose yahrzeit, the anniversary of his death, was just last week — the great Israeli writer and thinker, Amos Oz. Four years gone, and four years mourned.
Amos Oz was quite aware there were many people who did not believe there should be a Jewish state, because they simply do not believe in nation-states. This is what I would call the John Lennon “Imagine” argument: ”Imagine there’s no countries; it’s easy if you try.”
This is how Amos Oz responded to that argument:
I would be more than happy to live in a world composed of dozens of civilizations, each developing in accordance with its own internal rhythm, all cross-pollinating one another, without any one emerging as a nation-state: no flag, no emblem, no passport, no anthem. No nothing. Only spiritual civilizations tied somehow to their lands, without the tools of statehood and without the instruments of war.
But the Jewish people has already staged a long-running one-man show of that sort. The international audience sometimes applauded, sometimes threw stones, and occasionally slaughtered the actor. No one joined us; no one copied the model the Jews were forced to sustain for two thousand years, the model of a civilization without the “tools of statehood.” For me this drama ended with the murder of Europe’s Jews by Hitler.
In other words: It would be lovely if there were no nations, and we could all dwell together in the imaginary world of “kumbaya.”
But, if a nation wants to divest itself of the trappings of its nationhood, let it go first. France, Germany, Italy…
“After you,” Oz is saying. Don’t expect the Jews to be the first to divest itself of its national and particular identity, and don’t expect the Jews to be the only “universal” people in the world. Especially since universal identities do not exist.
Until there is a universal, human identity –—which is to say, until the coming of the great messianic age — I will maintain my allegiance to this people, to this land and to this God.