Monica Arkin’s Essay
Every Saturday afternoon at my Jewish overnight camp is mikkud, an hour-long conversation about the weekly Shabbat theme. Each cabin finds an open spot on camp to sit in a circle and share thoughts, feelings, and reflections on the week’s theme. One week, during my second year on staff, the Shabbat theme was the Holocaust. I vividly remember the atmosphere among my twelve-year-old campers as we sat in a circle on the grass. We had just left the Hadar after a fun brunch complete with bagels and benching, but now the mood was shifting. We began a discussion on the Holocaust, facilitated by a printed sheet of questions provided by the Judaic staff. Even as a counselor, my heart began to pound and my stomach started to tighten as we went around the circle and answered the questions on the sheet. We had been talking for about ten minutes when my camper Ari started to cry, asking how G-d could have let the Holocaust happen. My co-counselors and I looked at one another—we were expected to teach our campers about the Holocaust yet we ourselves did not know the answer to this vital question. I decided to take Ari on a walk while the rest of the cabin continued with mikkud. As we strolled around camp, with my arm draped over Ari’s shoulder, I admitted that I could not answer her question. Our relationship shifted from one of counselor-to-camper to one of Jew-to-Jew. Desperately searching for something to console Ari, my mind wandered to a recent trip to Israel. I explained the architecture of Yad Vashem: how the winding corridor becomes narrower and narrower until you feel as though you are trapped; but then, all of the sudden when it seems like there is no hope, the long winding path leads you outside onto a balcony that overlooks Jerusalem. I explained that I couldn’t answer her question as to why G-d let the Holocaust happen, but at least we could take comfort in knowing that it would never happen again because Jews have a home now.
This is just one of many memories I have that I associate with Zionism. Zionism is the belief that the Jewish people have a right to a homeland, and that Israel serves as a homeland to all Jewish people regardless of whether they live in ha’aretz or the diaspora. More than just a homeland, Israel represents hope. Just like “Hatikvah” proclaims, Israel is the hope of over two thousand years. To be a Zionist today, one must recognize this importance of Israel and protect its future. A Zionist must educate other Jews about the importance of Israel, like I did with Ari, but must also educate gentiles, since Israel is oft misunderstood.
While educating others it is important that Zionists recognize the complexity of Israel and its past. Many people mistakenly believe that Israel is an all-or-nothing topic: either you are with her wholeheartedly or you are against her. I tell people that it is okay to be critical of Israel’s government yet still support Israel. The fact that many Jews are comfortable enough to criticize Israel while simultaneously support her is a testament to the democratic values that Israel embodies. Just like in America, Israeli citizens can criticize their government and, most importantly, take steps to make the changes they wish to see. This relates back to the theme of hope. Although we achieved our hope for a Jewish state back in 1948, Zionists must continue to hope for peace in Israel and do whatever they can to help secure a promising future.