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January 24, 2020

Stand Up And Be Counted As A Zionist

Angela W. Buchdahl

Let me give you a recap of our Torah narrative of the last few weeks:
The Israelites were forced to leave their homeland 
it was a matter of survival—there was a famine in Israel. 
We ended up in the Diaspora, and for a while, 
the Egyptians were very good to us.  
We became quite comfortable. 
We even had Jews in the highest levels of government—
second to the Pharaoh! 
But then a new leader arose. 
And he fomented an antisemitic fervor among his people. 
He referred to us like vermin, multiplying like cockroaches. 
He made it clear—that we were never, really, one of them. 
We were a different nation.  
In fact, the first time we are called Am Bnei Yisrael
The “Nation of Israel,” is by Pharaoh in the book of Exodus. 
He was not just recognizing the Israelites as a people for the first time, 
but as a different people, 
who would never become real Egyptians
no matter how long we lived there.

Doesn’t this story sound eerily familiar? 
Not only because we retell it every year at Passover
But because we’ve heard it over and over again in Jewish history: 
From 15th Century Spain.  To 1930’s Germany. 
And 1970’s Iran.  
Some even think we’re reliving this story in America today. 
I don’t think so, but I am certainly watching very closely.

So, when nations who once embraced Jews suddenly turn on us,  
what did our people do? 
Well, in our Exodus narrative, 
we realized our People needed to return home 
to the land of our Patriarchs and Matriarchs.  
We couldn’t rely on foreign leaders to be good to us. 
We needed our own nationalist movement. 
We embraced being Am Bnei Yisrael, and seeing ourselves 
as a nation—for the first time. 
And so Moses led our people’s first return home; to Zion
He created the spiritual architecture for our nation
replete with the laws of our society. 
even as he never made it to the promised land himself.

Fast forward—oh about 3,600 years, 
Theodore Herzl articulated this same nationalist longing
with a new movement, called Zionism
compelled by the repeated historical experience of the Jews. 
He created the spiritual architecture for our modern nation state
even as he never got to live in the Promised Land himself either.

Herzl was born in 1860, in Budapest, 
and as a child, his house was next to the Dohaney Synagogue
which is the synagogue after which Central was modeled. 
Herzl was an assimilated, educated and worldly Jew, 
who attended the grand, beautiful synagogue in the center of the city, 
much like you and me. 

Herzl became a journalist and covered the Dreyfus affair, 
In which a Jewish French army captain 
was falsely convicted of spying for Germany. 
He could not believe the explicit antisemitism he saw. 
France was the very first country in the world to emancipate Jews in 1790.
Yet 100 years later, Herzl realizes that Jews were still seen as Other, 
even in the epicenter of emancipation.
He grew to believe that antisemitism could not be defeated or cured. 
We needed our own nation.

He wrote: 
“The Jews who wish for a State will have it. 
We shall live at last ... free ... on our own soil, 
and die peacefully in our own homes. 
The world will be freed by our liberty… 
And whatever we attempt there to accomplish for our own welfare, 
will react powerfully and beneficially for the good of humanity.”

It’s a beautiful vision of Zionism—
In many ways, much of the Zionist dream has come true. 
And there are, of course, ways in which we still fall short of that dream. 
However there are people today who want to make Zionism a dirty word. 
To equate it with racism. 
White colonialism.  Apartheid.  
Don’t let them corrupt what Zionism truly stands for. 
Which is the movement for Jewish self-determination; 
an expression of the Jewish peoples’ dreams of liberation 
and empowerment after millennia of struggle for civil rights 
and equality in the face of persecution, exile, and genocide. 
(Credit to Zioness for this definition!)

If you believe in the right of Jewish self-determination—
then you are a Zionist.  
Full stop. 
You don’t have to agree with all the policies of the Israeli government
to be a Zionist. 
You don’t have to pass a history or geography test to be a Zionist: 
“When was the Balfour Declaration?” 
“What are the boundaries of the green line?” 
People often use these as a litmus test for even talking about Israel. 
But it’s not that complicated—
If you believe in Jewish self determination, 
you should call yourself a Zionist. 
More than ever we need Zionists to assert themselves proudly
and to show up in spaces fighting for the values we care about. 
Most especially regarding Israel.

Even when I get frustrated or upset with some of the policies 
or actions of the Israeli government, being a Zionist means
staying engaged and doing everything I can.  
It can be hard because, there is not much I can do. 
But I want to tell you that every Jew in the world has a way to influence 
Israel in the next 3 months, in a very tangible and important way.

Herzl founded the World Zionist Congress in 1897.  
He envisioned it as the “Parliament of the Jewish People.” 
The Congress is still operating on behalf of global Jewry 
for the good of the Zionist dream 123 years later.  
It’s an Incredible premise—
that even though you and I don’t live in the State of Israel
we each get to vote for our representatives in the Zionist Congress
which is convened every 5 years. 
We each get a say in the nation state of the Jewish people!  
What’s at stake? 
Over $5 billion have been allocated in Israel through the Congress. 
The Congress also votes on the leadership of important organizations 
such as the JNF and the Jewish Agency. 
If you vote for Reform seats—this translates into funding 
to support the Reform movement, 
to help build a civil society 
and to promote equality for all Israeli citizens. 

There are 500 seats in the Congress: 
145 seats are alloted for American Jews. 
I am honored this year to be #10 on the Reform slate, 
so a vote for Reform will help me be your voice in the Zionist Congress. 

5 years ago—even though every adult Jew in the world is allowed to vote, 
only about 1% actually did. 
In Manhattan, there were only 1000 votes total.  That is pathetic.  
If everyone in this sanctuary, 
and a handful more out there livestreaming voted, 
we could beat that number from Central alone! 
The Orthodox community took 26% of the delegates last time, 
and were punching above their 10% of the population. 
Because you know, in those communities 
if their rabbi tells them to vote, they do it! 
I don’t use my rabbinical authority very often, 
But I would like to say, as your rabbi—VOTE! 
And this goes for all you livestreamers out there too!  
You can also vote! 
Information will be on your screen after this sermon.

If I can’t convince you personally because I’m on the slate. 
Let me urge you to vote so that you can help fund religious pluralism 
and equality in Israel. 
And if that is not enough—
Vote so that you can counted as a Zionist.  
Let Israelis and the world know, at this crucial time in Jewish history, 
that the right for Jewish self-determination matters to you. 
Don’t give up on the national aspirations of our people 
to create a promised land that is both a haven and homeland for all Jews 
and which will benefit all of humanity—
Just as Moses dreamed of that Promised Land over 4000 years ago 
with Am Bnei Yisrael
So Please Vote, and have a voice—
in the Jewish People’s greatest sovereign project of all time. 

Watch our sermon above or on Youtube, listen on Apple Podcasts and Spotify, or read the transcript above.

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