Moving beyond the ‘perfect dream’ of Zionism
Questions for Micah Goodman
As a fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem and a founder of Ein Prat, the Israeli Academy for Leadership, Micah Goodman is designing what he calls a “new paradigm” for Zionism. Goodman, who has a doctorate from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Jewish thought, will speak about his ideas when he serves as scholar-in-residence on Friday-Saturday, Dec. 3-4, at Congregation Agudath Israel of West Essex in Caldwell.
He was interviewed by telephone from his office in Jerusalem on Nov. 21.
NJJN: Your Friday night talk is titled “Renewing the Connection of American Jews to the State of Israel.” Is there not an adequate connection already? What do you feel is lacking?
Goodman: Today there is a tendency to believe that Zionism and liberal values are in conflict. The Holocaust had a tremendous impact on that earlier generation of American Jewry. Now it seems like there is a critical battle in America over multicultural space, but in Israel the public space is a Jewish space. So it seems like liberalism in America and Zionism are now a contradiction in terms.
NJJN: Do you feel the occupation of the West Bank and the building in areas of the West Bank and east Jerusalem have alienated some American-Jewish support and, at the same time, strengthened the connection of others?
Goodman: Israel used to be a source of pride for many American Jews. Today, unfortunately, for a younger generation of American Jews, Israel is not a source of pride anymore. It is a source of embarrassment. It has a lot to do with the way American Jews see Zionism, and a lot to do with Zionism itself. What I am trying to do is build a new paradigm that will make Israel a more interesting story for Israelis and, as a result, for American Jews as well.
NJJN: What do you mean by a “new paradigm”?
Goodman: In old-school Zionism, Israel was the perfect dream, a trophy, a kibbutz on a cloud, a perfect story. That Zionist dream came from people who left Russia at the start of the 20th century with a utopian mentality. Their brothers participated in the Russian Revolution of 1917. That’s what they brought to Israel. They said with Zionism you’ve got to be perfect. That’s utopian. But the problem is, it is not perfect. So they are rejecting the whole thing altogether.
NJJN: Do you believe peace with the Palestinians is possible?
Goodman: Personally, I think it is possible to reach an agreement, but I’m not sure it is possible to reach a long-term peace agreement. I don’t think you should have high expectations. Utopians believe a peace agreement will end all our problems. We live in an imperfect world and we have to settle for an imperfect agreement. You won’t have complete peace. That is the paradigm for a new Zionism I would like to present.
NJJN: Should the conversion bill pass in the Knesset, might that not alienate non-Orthodox American Jews from a country they perceive as becoming increasingly theocratic?
Goodman: In Israel, in order to solve the Palestinian problem the government has created a coalition with the haredim. They say, ‘You vote with us on issues of land and peace, we’ll give you all the religious issues.’ As a result of being so obsessed with signing the perfect agreement to solve the Arab conflict, we are always sacrificing a secular Jewish character to control by the haredim. I believe that the haredim problem is much more significant than the Arab-Israeli problem. Once we believe that, we will get new coalitions of Kadima and Likud and Labor together without the haredim. That will rob the haredim of their power and solve the internal problem of the relationship between synagogue and state in Israel.
NJJN: Your Saturday talk is “Hanukah in the Writing of Modern Jewish Philosophers.” What might that entail?
Goodman: For Zionist utopians, Hanukka is about a military victory over the enemy. For traditional Jews, Hanukka is about divine intervention, God’s power over nature. Zionism created another extreme: when there is no God there is nothing beyond us. We need to create a new paradigm for Hanukka which reflects a new paradigm for Zionism.