Berl Katznelson (1887-1944), an early Zionist visionary, shared the following statement to a conference of leaders of the Youth Aliyah:
“Whoever comes to uproot the redemption of Israel from the tractate of moral values and the liberation of humanity is not strengthening the causes of redemption. If justice, law, and freedom are no longer the foundation of the establishment, then: Why Jewish immigration? Why settlement? Why save the People and establish a state? No, Zionism would not have arisen—and will not stand—in a world that does not grant justice, law, and freedom to all who are created in the Divine Image. And it should not repudiate these human values, for in so doing it will be writing its own (death) sentence.”
He is saying that if Israel loses sight of its values—freedom, justice, and law—then it is not worth having a Jewish state.
This Shabbat, between Yom HaShoah and Yom Ha’atzmaut, is designated as a “special” Shabbat coined “Shabbat Tekumah – The Shabbat of Revival.” This “revival” represents the dramatic turn from the tragedy of the Holocaust to the realization of the dream of a Jewish state, echoing the ancient paradigm of disaster to renewal thus creating meaningful national and theological moments as we mark modern events. On this Shabbat and in this moment in history we are reminded of the multiple reasons it is worth having a Jewish State.
Israel is a country being built and rebuilt daily by the dreams and struggles of millions of people.
At this momentous milestone 75th anniversary, there is one word that characterizes and captures the Zionist dream:
Hagsha-what? It’s not a term used often, but on Israel’s 75th birthday let’s bring it back.
Maybe those of you who grew up in a Zionist youth Movement might have an inkling of a memory of this term as something people discussed and advocated. You might recognize it from that stint you did volunteering on a kibbutz a million years ago, but you weren’t really sure what it meant.
Hagshamah is defined as “practical realization.” According to Professor Ehud Luz, it was one of the key terms in modern Hebrew literature and Zionist thought, and it’s time to bring it back into our modern Jewish and Hebrew lexicon.
The beauty of the term Hagshamah was that it became a watchword for both the Religious and the non-religious pioneering youth movements. It was a term that conveyed the essence of Zionist resolve and activism, the effort to give life to the spirit and concrete expression to an age-old dream to be a free people in our Land.
Philosophically, hagshamah signifies the desire to meld opposites and form consensus while thinking and creating, adapting and adjusting, inventing and innovating, and beyond all to keep on dreaming.
It often takes a crisis to awaken dreamers and compel them toward that practical realization. A crisis – more than a celebration – can violently shake the status quo prompting many Israelis and Jews around the world to evaluate who we all are, what we believe in, and in what kind of a society we want to live.
Many do that at birthdays, at the start of a new year, and at major life milestones. Now to paraphrase Winston Churchill, we have an anniversary-wrapped-in-a-crisis-inside-a- major milestone. We have witnessed the Zionist enterprise take a fatal turn in being ruled by a coalition that has chosen to actualize (L’hagshim) a Jewish State at the expense of democracy.
A U-turn is needed, and it isn’t too late.
Just as Zionism focused attention on the Jewish condition and recognized that the realization/hagshamah of the Zionist dream would require a revolutionary change in the condition of the Jewish people. Israel’s 75th anniversary of Independence is a moment for us to renew our sense of hagshamah and educate, activate, and mobilize our Movement around our core Reform Zionist values.
Now, we need as many Jews as possible around the world to commit to the following values:
1. Religious Equality
We envision and work for an Israeli society in which liberal Jewish movements and religious streams are recognized equally. We yearn for a society in which all of us are respected as Jews regardless of our interpretation of texts, traditions, and levels of observance.
2. Combatting Racism, Discrimination, and Hatred
Towards religious and ethnic minorities, LGBTQ+ people, people with disabilities, and all members of Israeli society deserve to be treated with civility, dignity, respect, and full equality under the law.
3. Security in the Region
The pursuit of peace, security, and stability for Israelis, Palestinians, and the surrounding region remains our goal, and we are committed to Israel’s security as it continues to face serious and existential threats from its neighbors.
4. A Jewish State Alongside a Palestinian State
Although the road may seem long, we are committed to peace based on an arrangement of a separate democratic State for the Palestinian people. We believe that Two States are essential for the security and stability of both Israelis and Palestinians and for justice for the Palestinian people.
This is why we came to Israel this week to a special convening of the World Zionist Congress. Our joint faction of Reform, Reconstructionist, and Conservative Jews from around the world championed the values of Israel’s Declaration of Independence, supported LGBTQ+ rights, worked to preserve the Law of Return, ensured our Israeli Reform and Conservative Rabbis’ conversions would continue to be recognized by the State, and we put our weight behind the current negotiations hosted by President Herzog with the hope of coming to a compromise to end the current constitutional crisis.
125 years ago, hagshamah was about building a Zionist Movement and creating a State. 75 years ago, it was about building a Jewish society, having gathered in the exiles from the four corners of the earth and protecting the physical State of Israel. Today hagshamah is about affirming our liberal Jewish values, identity, and relationships. To chart the course for the next 75 years it will depend on all of us achieving that sense of hagshamah so that, in the words of MK Rabbi Gilad Kariv, “we can turn the changing tides back to a democratic, Zionist and open Jewish homeland for all its citizens and all Jews.”
As we come together this Shabbat to lift up our spirits from the depths of destruction, we have so much to celebrate. Celebrating the modern miracle of the Jewish State should serve as inspiration to yearn for that “practical realization” that fulfillment and that vision of what Israel can and should be.
Shabbat Shalom and Yom Ha’atzmaut Sameach!
 Luz, Ehud. “13. Challenging the Zionist Ethos”. Wrestling with an Angel: Power, Morality, and Jewish Identity, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008, pp. 247-273.