What Is Zionism And What Does It Mean To Me?

After being exiled from their ancestral homeland in the year 70 A.D., Jews spread out all over the world, to live in other countries. During the years of this exile the Jewish peopled faced much persecution and inequality. The future of the Jewish people of the Diaspora was bleak, and so they took control of their own destiny. After almost 2,000 years of being without a homeland, from the ashes of the Holocaust, a new type of Jew was born. Prepared to stand up for themselves, these new Jews made a successful democratic country flourish in the desert. To this day, Israel is the only truly democratic country in the Middle East with freedom for all its inhabitants.

The story of Zionism begins in the late nineteenth century. Europe was afire with new ideas sweeping the Western world. For the first time ever people were talking about democracy, equality, and freedom. But it was not clear whether Jews would be counted as equal citizens in the countries they lived in and debate raged on either side and amongst Jews and non-Jews.

And then came an event that cast stark clarity on the situation and made many Jews realize this was far more than an academic debate. In 1894 a young French artillery officer was wrongly accused of treason (a crime he was later to be proven innocent of).
Theodor Herzel (May 2,1860 – July 3,1904) was the main leader and originator of the Zionist movement. Jews were influenced by many factors that led them to create this movement. One factor was the rising spirit of nationalism in Europe during that era, and the anti-Jewish sentiment among Europeans. Herzl’s writings and activity got the push for a Jewish State going, but he never lived to see the fruits of his labor.

As he was being marched in front of the public to be publicly stripped of his military rank and title, the French crowd spontaneously started chanting “DEATH TO THE JEWS.” This was France, the first country to go to arms against their monarchy over issues of equality. And yet the French were using this as an excuse to call for the destruction of all Jews.

It was this event that convinced Theodore Herzl, the father of Zionism, that the Jews could not be guaranteed safety and equality in a country which was not their own. Herzl was a secular Jew who cared little and had almost nothing to do with his Jewish roots until the Dreyfus Affair. He argued that because the Jews have always had the status of “outsiders” in Europe, they would never be entirely safe. Therefore, just like all the other nations had their own countries which were able to secure their peoples’ rights, the Jews also needed a country of their own in order for Jewish safety to be guaranteed. This is how Zionism was born.

Zionism is a political ideology that supports a Jewish state in the ancient Jewish homeland of Israel. Herzl was not the only person, and his ideas not the only ideas to influence what is now called Zionism. There were many who argued for, and worked towards the creation of a Jewish state. Zionism was not only an argument to guarantee Jewish equality. Some Zionist thinkers viewed Zionism as the cure for anti-Semitism. The other nations who had a physical country and a shared culture to define them could not understand the Jews who had no country of their own. Jews existed and shared the culture of the countries they lived in, yet had their own distinct culture, too. By establishing a Jewish state, the Zionists were arguing that we would be looked at as normal by the non-Jews. Also, it would serve as an opportunity for Jews to centralize their culture and identify with one another and learn how to participate in all aspects of society (Jews were excluded from many elements of society in Christian Europe).

The holiday of Passover celebrates the forging of the Jews into a nation. During the Passover Seder, we tell the story of how we were freed from bondage at the hands of the Egyptians, and became our own masters. Part of the liturgy of this ritual is a re-telling of much of Jewish history up to the destruction of the Jewish Temple and subsequent exile of the Jewish people from Israel.
Despite the small size of the country, the Israel Defense Forces have become one of the most respected military forces anywhere on Earth and has become a bullwark for the free world against terrorist forces in the Middle East.

We relate how in every generation an enemy arises to destroy us, yet the Jews keep on going and eventually triumph. The Jews have overcome Egyptian slavery, destruction of our homeland, massacres during the Crusades, the Spanish expulsion, the Chmielnitsky massacres, the Holocaust, and so much more.

But Zionism has changed the rules of the game and the Israel Defense Forces is now considered one of the most powerful militaries in the world. This has been a blessing not just for the Jews, but for the whole world because today the enemies of the Jews are also the enemies of all good, freedom loving peoples. The whole world can rest a little easier knowing that tough Israeli soldiers are on the frontlines of the battle between good and evil and that the nation of Israel is within striking distance of Iran and Syria and is actively hunting terrorists from Hamas, Al-Qaeda and Hizbullah. Every nation has Zionism to thank for some of the security they enjoy.