If I ever decide to make aliyah and move to Israel, I can blame it on Micah Goodman. On a chilly and wet Sunday night last week at The Mark — a reception hall on Pico Boulevard that used to house Mamash restaurant — Goodman spoke on “The Crash of Old Paradigms: Why the Left and the Right No Longer Exist in Israel.” Professor Goodman, who was hosted by the Israeli Consulate as part of their new speaker series for young professionals, is part of a new generation of young and bright Israelis who are seeking nothing less than a renewal of the Zionist idea.Ha'aretz looked at Ein Prat once.
Goodman, who’s only 33, studied in a variety of yeshivas over the years and got a doctorate of philosophy from Hebrew University. He teaches, among other places, at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, has his own weekly television show and runs a “leadership academy” called Ein Prat, which he founded. On the invitation for his Sunday night talk, Ein Prat was described as follows: “Seeking to lead a sea change in behavior and culture, we hope to awaken Israeli society from its slumber.”
I can tell you that he woke about a hundred young professionals in Los Angeles from their slumber, yours truly included.
He did it by laying out a dramatic and depressing problem — what he calls a “crisis of ideas” for Zionism — and then fearlessly taking it on with an equally dramatic and positive vision.
He began by discussing the two original strands of Zionism: the Zionism of Peace and the Zionism of Land, explaining why both are failing and need an injection of new thinking.
The Zionism of Peace is the classic view of Israel as a safe haven for Jews. Its champion, Theodore Herzl, had seen the failure of emancipation to ward off anti-Semitism, epitomized by the anti-Semitic rage exposed in the Dreyfus affair. By enabling Jews to join the brotherhood of nations, this view went, Zionism would not only protect Jews from persecution but might even help vanquish anti-Semitism.
The Zionism of Land, as championed by Rav Kook, was not about fighting a negative, but about celebrating a positive: the return to the mystical land of our forefathers.
From 1948 to 1967, neither Zionism won the day. The state was too close to hostile neighbors to be a Zionism of Peace, and too distant from biblical Israel to be a Zionism of Land.
The Six-Day War of 1967 changed all that. Followers of both Zionisms saw an opening to fulfill their own dreams. The Peace camp finally had something (land) it could trade for peace and acceptance, and the Land camp, after 2,000 years, could finally return to the land of their patriarchs.
The ensuing 40 years saw both dreams unravel. Land couldn’t buy the Zionism of Peace, and love couldn’t buy the Zionism of Land. Today, when Goodman looks at the physical threats to Israel and the success of Jewish emancipation in America, he laments: “Jews are haunted in their haven, and accepted in the Diaspora. This is an earthquake to the Zionist idea.”
The original justifications for Zionism — both pragmatic and ideological — are under such attack that the crisis of ideas has become a crisis of legitimacy, where Jews must now answer this vexing question: Why Zionism? This crisis is compounded by the fact that, as Goodman says, Israelis are the “Olympic champions of not loving themselves.”
Yet it was Goodman’s deep love for Zionism and his people, as much as his scholarly analysis, that woke us from our slumber. Here was a man who quoted the great philosophers, but who just as easily quoted the soldiers who were under his command during the recent wars in Lebanon and Gaza.
When he critiqued his homeland, he did it with a heavy heart. But when he talked about the outbursts of solidarity in Israeli society — thousands of homes opening up to refugees of bomb attacks, 100 percent of Army reservists responding to the call of duty, scores of volunteers helping out in bomb shelters, etc. — it was with a sense of genuine wonder.
It is this sense of wonder at the possibilities of the Zionist experiment that Goodman and his ilk are hoping to rekindle in Israeli society. He calls it a Zionism of Solidarity — creating an exemplary and decent society that worries less about what the world thinks of us and more about what we think of ourselves.
It is the renewal of Zionism from the inside out. It calls for, among other things, better treatment of all citizens (including migrant workers) and a greater separation of synagogue and state, where Judaism and its values are part of education rather than legislation.
The website for the group includes this fascinating video made by the students that shows the excitement that the project is creating:
The site also has a couple of videos of Micah Goodman speaking in English. This one seems similar to the talk in LA, where he unflinchingly looks at problems in Israeli society and Zionism in the wake of the Lebanon war and talks about what can (or must) be done to re-invent Zionism.
Anti-Zionists would look at this video and see evidence of Israeli weakness. It is in fact the opposite.