Celebrating Hadassah’s Activist, Pragmatic, Identity Zionism

OP-EDS & REVIEWS

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 10-16-12

Nearly two thousand women have gathered in Jerusalem this week to mark the hundredth anniversary of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization. Jerusalem is not only the Jewish people’s capital, it is the city graced by two Hadassah hospitals, and dozens of other Hadassah blessings. On display this week – and every day — is a celebration of the three words in Hadassah’s subtitle, tapping into: the power of women, the magic of Zionism, and the transformational potential of one, effective organization.

For years now, some have wanted Hadassah to be the WOMEN’S zionist organization – downplaying the Zionism – while others have wanted it to be the women’s ZIONIST organization – downplaying the gender identity. Both extreme factions are wrong. The two together make Hadassah, Hadassah. When Henrietta Szold launched the organization in 1912, women did not have the power or public standing they have today. Hadassah has empowered generations of Jewish women, demonstrating how much women could accomplish, while reflecting a female sensibility in such crucial, life-affirming arenas as health, education, and welfare.

Growing up in the Hadassah-sponsored Young Judaea youth movement, my friends and I in the late 1970s witnessed a world in which women’s leadership was natural not forced. We met powerful role models, who were just doing what they were doing as Zionist leaders, running a multi-million dollar organization, speaking at rallies, meeting with Israeli leaders. The formidable Charlotte Jacobson, the legendary Ruth Popkin, the extraordinary Marlene Post, were all part of a chain of leadership that began with Henrietta Szold, reached fulfillment with Golda Meir, and continues today. The Zionism we absorbed was egalitarian, non-sexist, constructively, easily, healthily feminist.

Hadassah Zionism has also been unique. Hadassah Zionism is broad-based, pragmatic, welcoming, and activist. It is about building bridges and uniting Jews around the idea of a Jewish State, not testing each other for ideological or religious purity on a dozen dimensions. And it is about a purifying, transforming, altruistic activism. Hadassah is not just check writing and fundraising. It is about educating and imagining: educating its members and non-members, while imagining a better world for all through the best medical institutions in the world, top technical colleges, extraordinary programs.

Hadassah Zionism, therefore, especially as exemplified by its two flagship hospitals in Jerusalem, teaches the important Zionist and nationalist lesson – that through peoplehood power, through national pride, through Jewish values, through Zionist commitments you can have universalist achievements, doing a world of good for Jews, Arabs and Christians who live in the Middle East and for humanity through pioneering medical and social service work. For that reason, because through peace and through war, Hadassah has been an oasis of mutual cooperation improving the world, I have repeatedly asserted one of my few powers as an academic and nominated it for the Nobel Peace Prize – only to be disappointed as the relativistic, self-involved Europeans honor Yasir Arafat, Jimmy Carter, and in the ultimate act of self-indulgence, the European Union this year.

For its next 100 years, Hadassah must adjust its mission. It is now evolving away from underwriting the Young Judaea youth movement, giving that important organization the independence it needs. It continues its holy work supporting the Hadassah Medical Organization, epitomized by this week’s opening of the $363 million dollar, high-tech, up-to-date, 19-story, 500-bed Davidson Medical Tower at Ein Karem. But it also should embrace a new cause – fighting the growing values crisis afflicting modern Jewry in general and American Jewry in particular.

Even during these economically perilous times, so many of us are suffering from affluenza, the spiritual influenza that comes from having too much. Symptoms include amnesia regarding enduring values, materialism, lack of motivation, addiction to electronics, weakened commitments, diluted relationships, bouts of depression, epidemics of meaninglessness.

Belonging to the Republic of Nothing, so many sleepwalk through life, wired in to virtual experiences and fake Facebook friends, insulating ourselves from a culture of ideas, of values, of caring, of sacrificing for any principles. If the stereotyped Hadassah Ladies of yesteryear, reeking of character, were characterized by their indomitable spirit, formidable presence, and relentless pursuit of their goal, their children and grandchildren, of the “Whatever” generation, risk being pale shadows of their colorful forbears, rootless, aimless, spineless, amoral, disaffected, passive, disengaged.

Hadassah’s network of 300,000 women cannot only trust their role modeling and their good works to help tackle this problem. They have to, as the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, address this problem boldly, directly, creatively. The must be harbingers of a Zionist values revolution, championing Identity Zionism. They must learn how to inspire their children and grandchildren to inherit their commitments not just their assets, their skill sets not just their bank books, their values not just their valuables.

They should start a conversation immediately, about who they are, what they do, why they do what they do, and why they need the next generation as partners in this holy work. They should explain how much they have done for Israel – and explain how by doing so much for that great country and for the United States, they also did so much for themselves. In so doing, they will reveal the true secret of Jewish communal work, of charitable giving and community building, that the more you give the more you get, the more you invest in good deeds and good works, the greater and grander your life becomes.

John Kennedy got it half right. It is good to ask “what you can do for your country.” But the experience of hundreds of thousands of Hadassah heroines over the years shows that in doing for your country, your people, your community, you also discover all the good that your country, your people, your community can do for you.

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Research Fellow in Jerusalem. The author of “Why I am a Zionist: Israel, Jewish identity and the Challenges of Today,” his next book, “Moynihan’s Moment: America’s Fight Against Zionism as Racism” will be published by Oxford University Press in the fall.

A J-Street convention fantasy: What they needed to hear

OP-EDS & REVIEWS

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 3-28-12

The J-Street convention just ended with limited media coverage. This reflects the growing realization that despite its self-promotion, this political organization is marginal, dwarfed by the 13,000 liberals, moderates, and conservatives at AIPAC’s policy conference. Not having heard much about what was said or not said, applauded or booed, here is what I wish the J-Streeters heard – and how I hope the participants reacted.
I write as someone who believes in Big Tent Zionism, welcoming a vigorous Zionist Left and Right, and who endorses a two-state solution. But I also write as someone who heard the rumor that at last year’s J-Street convention, the Israel bashers consistently received the most enthusiastic applause.  Although I hope the rumor is false, it is believable; I have seen such politically correct, enthusiastic self-loathing in too many corners of the Jewish Left too frequently over the last decade.
Were the names of Rav Yonatan Sandler, age 30, his sons Aryeh, 6, and Gavriel Yissacher, 4, on everybody’s lips, three of the Tolouse terrorist’s victims? Was the image of the Islamist terrorist pulling eight-year-old Miriam Monsonego by the hair, then executing her at point blank range, burned into attendees’ consciousnesses, as it is into mine? Did they struggle with the problem of anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist hatred that transcends the rational, that spawns such barbarism, that won’t be solved by border swaps or apologies, and is not our fault?
Did they mourn the three French paratroopers, two of Arab descent, noting that Arabs frequently suffer from the brutality of fanatic Islamist terrorists?
I wonder if Yasir Arafat and his war against Oslo were discussed honestly, fully. So many of us wanted the Oslo peace process to work, and felt betrayed when Arafat led his people away from negotiations back to terror. A frank conversation would not just list Israel’s mistakes. It would acknowledge Palestinian responsibility for the current stalemate too, starting with Palestinians’ bloody repudiation of Oslo.  True liberals should respect Palestinians as real people, who can affect their fates, rather than reducing them to stick-figure victims, always bystanders never actors, condescendingly freed from any moral obligations or historical responsibility by a self-involved narrative that only sees Western and Israeli sins.
I hope there was some discussion of the Boycott Boomerang. Historically, calls to boycott Israel, and the broader delegitimization campaign, jinx peace efforts. The 1975 Zionism is Racism resolution emboldened Palestinian terrorists, encouraged more settlements, and hurt the United Nations – which continues sacrificing its credibility with its biased anti-Israel obsession, expressed this week through the UN Human Rights Council’s  “fact-finding” farce scrutinizing the settlements. Sweeping categorical attacks demonize, polarize, alienate.  They encourage extremists not compromisers, haters not reconcilers. Fighting delegitimization, like fighting anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, is fighting for peace, for the mutual dignity of all parties.
Was there a mature conversation about Iran? Did anyone ask why the Iranians want nuclear weapons, why do Ahmadinejad and the mullahs threaten the United States – Big Satan – and Israel – little Satan? Did anyone wonder why fighting nuclear proliferation, long a core value on the left, somehow has not stirred passion when it comes to fighting Iran’s rush to go nuclear?
Was any good news about Israel allowed into the convention hall?  Did J-Streeters hear about the miracle of Hadassah Hospital that has Arabs and Jews healing together and working together so naturally?  Were J-Streeters aware of the 90th birthday celebrations last week of the pioneering Zionist entrepreneur David Azrieli, who proudly proclaims himself a Zionist and expresses his Zionism by helping Israel thrive economically and culturally, on par with the best of the West, while donating much of his fortune to the Jewish people and humanity via his foundation? Was there room on the program to discuss Identity Zionism or Israel as Values Nation – how the existence of the State of Israel can root modern Jews in an idealistic project that is a counter to the selfish, self-involved, I-ness of our iPad, iPod, iPhone era?
These issues are not frivolous sidesteps from the only “real” issue, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As with any country, some balance, some context, is essential. And, as with any real mess, acknowledging complexity rather than simply sloganeering is important.   Just as we do not define the United States solely by racism, and we have to understand that an unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin can be gunned down unjustly in the same country which elected a black man president, so too, we do not define Israel solely by its troubles with the Palestinians.  Moreover, we see the multiple dimensions there, too. If the solution is so clear, why do so many Palestinian Jerusalemites want Israeli identity cards? And why are the radical Islamic Israeli Arab citizens of Umm al-Fahm offended whenever someone suggests they should join the Palestinian state they demand so aggressively?
Finally, I hope the J Street convention emphasized what unites us as Israel lovers not just what divides us. My conversations both formally and informally with J-Streeters have affirmed our common belief in the Jewish right to a state and in Israel’s need to survive.  As J-Streeters evaluate what they heard as they return home, and think about what stirred the crowd, they should think about the messaging that occurred during the convention. Was the right tone, the right balance, struck? Did the group dynamic pull out the shared love of Israel or a harsher, distorted view of the Jewish state?
All conventions encourage groupthink and mass messaging. I hope the J-Street convention showed a maturing organization, not afraid of complexity, willing to embrace the positive as well as the negative, understanding nuance.  That is what the Jewish world and the Middle East need, not self-righteous posturing or supercritical Blame Israel Firsters.

The writer is professor of history at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Research Fellow in Jerusalem. He is the author of Why I Am A Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today and The History of American Presidential Elections.