Is it a Contradiction to be a Patriot and a Zionist?
Like many Americans, I participated in part of Super Bowl LI festivities a few weeks ago, but not for the reasons you might think. To say that I don’t follow football is an understatement--I only found out who was playing the day before the game. So why would I watch the Super Bowl? The answer is, I love to watch the annual rendition of the national anthem.
Watching servicemen and servicewomen from each branch of the United States military march out onto the field, the seriousness and silence of the stadium and all the players, and the giant American flag stretched across the field, formed the core reason why I went to the Morgenstern lounge on Sunday night.
As a child in elementary school, we always used to start off class (after davening of course!) by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. I recall how those moments gave me a sense of pride of having the privilege and honor of being an American. Reading about our country’s principles and history, I never fail but to marvel at the freedoms we enjoy in this country--freedoms that aren’t even available to people in “first-world” European countries.
However, lately I’ve been having misgivings about my distinct patriotic feelings and how I should feel about the state of Israel. If I really think that the US is the greatest country in the world, what does that say about how I feel about Israel?
As a Jew, Israel is not just my homeland, but it is also the land of my roots: my past, present and future. Visiting Hebron never stops to instill in me a sense of awe, with the realization that Abraham, my forefather, walked on this very earth. When I look at the Temple Mount, I don’t see the Dome of the Rock. I see it as how it should be--with the holy Temple in all its glory, smoke from the ketoret (incense) and the sacrifices filling the air and pilgrims coming from all over the world to offer praise and thanksgiving to G-d.
Walking through the city of Jerusalem testifies to the direct fulfillment of Zechariah’s prophecy: “…There shall yet old men and old women sit in the streets of Jerusalem, every man with his staff in his hand for old age. And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in her streets” (Zech. 8:4-5). This is the very stuff of Rabbi Akiva’s wildest imaginations (Makot 24b). The very Land breathes the history of our people; she pines for our presence, and we for hers. If I believe that we Jews truly belong nowhere but the Land of Israel, how can I also be a patriot?
I believe there is an answer to my emotional conflict. What makes the US the greatest country in the world is its founding principles, that every man, woman and child was bestowed by their Creator certain inalienable rights that can never be taken away by any government. That, and limiting power of the government, is what caused the US to thrive in the modern world. Immigrants (including my parents) flocked to the US for the hope of a life unencumbered by limitations and prosecution from government.
Israel represents many of the same things to me. Israel is where the Jewish people can enjoy autonomy and be able serve G-d without fear of persecution (except, ironically on the Temple Mount). It is the land promised to us by G-d, a holy land entrusted to our people to guard and delight in.
The United States is the place where my family found refuge fleeing from the former Soviet Union. The United States accepted my parents and grandparents and provided us a home to live securely and practice our faith freely. In the words of Rav Moshe Feinstein, America is a “medina shel chessed”. It is a home for the afflicted of all nations, seeking a better life for themselves. The founders were worried about the dangers of an unbound democracy, where mob rule would be law. Therefore, they created a representative republic, a government where the rights of the minority would be protected from the will of the majority.
Yes, the US is truly an amazing country, one whose kindness I recognize and where I live, able to wear my yarmulke in public (unlike in some countries in Europe). However, Israel is our true home, the land which was promised to us, and land where we could fulfill halakha in the ideal way. We Jews must never forget our roots, our history and most importantly, the G-d who entrusted the Land to us.