Just six years ago as a student at Columbia University, I remember the tremendous anti-Israel surge on our campus, and how many young, impressionable Jews took part in those protests. Shocked at one relatively involved friend who had joined up with the crowd, she reaffirmed for me — much to my disbelief — that she was proud of her Jewish heritage. It was just that she had decided that because of what she considered poor treatment of the Palestinians that she could not be a Zionist.
Being a Zionist and being Jewish are inseparable parts of my soul. Yet I would be naive to believe that most American Jews feel the same way. One only need look at the events of the past week, where a cyber war has been raging on Facebook among young Jews trying to make sense of a perceived clash between their progressive values and a theoretical loyalty to the Jewish state. Almost always in these cases, Israel ends up the loser.
Politics aside, I believe that Zionism today remains an unfinished symphony, and that it is incumbent upon each generation to look toward the past for guidance and to add its own new movement. Our oral tradition (the tractate Pesachim, of the Mishna) commands us to remember, in each generation, what it was like to come out of Egypt. Yet with each generation, it becomes more difficult to remember why we invest so much time and energy into this memory.
Today, there remain many Jews, heavily invested emotionally and financially in the 62-year-old State of Israel, who hope that the Jewish people can finally rest on its laurels. But it cannot. Israel, metaphorically speaking, is the Jewish people's strongest nonprofit organization, and like all organizations, it must continue to evolve with Zionism as its mission and vision for the future.
It is for that reason that I am off to Israel in time to celebrate the 150th birthday of Theodor Herzl, to participate in the World Zionist Organization Congress as a MERCAZ-USA delegate. Along with 750 delegates from all over the world, we will be attending the congress to debate, redefine and re-energize modern Zionism for the next generation.
I want to have a real stake in developing this new mission for the future of the Jewish state and Jewish people. Along with 60 other youth delegates, I will have my foot in three camps: my country, youth and movement.
The congress today succeeds at being one of the few forums open to Diaspora Jews to voice their concerns and be well-represented. It also requires, unlike most Jewish organizations, that 25 percent of the congress' delegates be younger than 30, and a resolution is now on the table to require another 25 percent be under 45.
As a Conservative Jew, concerns about religious pluralism –which manifested themselves this year in the arrests of participants of Women of the Wall religious services and the beating of a woman by a haredi man upon seeing tefillin marks on her arm — are still very alive, and in need of continued lobbying and support.
I believe that Zionism must have ways of incorporating youth, improving Diaspora ties and fostering religious pluralism into its mission to ensure a stronger future for Israel.
I hope that by speaking with my feet — by going to Israel — that my actions may inspire my friends and peers to become ambassadors for the Jewish nation and for Zionism. Each day when I say "Birkat Hamazon," the grace after meals, I ask God to bless the State of Israel as the dawn of the Jewish people's redemption. May it be so in the many days ahead.
Daniel Dorsch is the assistant rabbi at Temple Beth Shalom in Livingston, N.J. A Solomon Schechter and Akiba Hebrew Academy graduate, he is a former president of the Delaware Valley Region, United Synagogue Youth and an alumnus of Camp Ramah in the Poconos.