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The Bourgeois Zionist Dilemma

July 21, 2009 – 10:46 pm26 Comments

aliyaBy Jewin’ the fat

As with many children of the Jewish day school system, my childhood was peppered with intriguing anecdotes and extraordinary stories of a far off Holy Land, where Jews are welcomed into their own nation, and the ground flows freely with milk and honey (I was soon to find out, to my bitter disappointment, that the allegory of flowing dairy foods was merely a metaphor for a land of abundance).

I was also reminded daily that in my Australian reality my parents were paying good money to send me to a top Jewish day school, and cursed be I should I not take full advantage of the plethora of Jewish and Hebrew based subjects and opportunities (which, to my bitter disappointment, were limited to one or two modern Hebrew classes a week and a little ethno-religious history), get a banging Tertiary entrance mark, become a lawyer-doctor, get married and produce offspring for my parents to dote over on the weekends. It’s the fifth commandment after all – Honour thy Mother and Father (And be damned if you don’t do as they say).

And so it was – for years I was ping-ponging back and forth between the Zionism dream, and the ersatz Diaspora Zionist reality. But like thousands of other young Jews, I broke the mould, defied my parents (by studying Journalism and spending my gap year in Israel. As well as the summer break in second year. And 10 months at the end of my degree) and became a product of my Jewish Zionist education.

But the success story that eventuated was the parental nightmare: highly politicized, staunchly Zionist, with a hopeful entrepreneurial spirit and chomping at the bit to move half way across the world and make their dreams come true. In short, when I called home one warm April day to inform my parents that Israel was my homeland, and Aliyah was the only way up, I was shocked to discover I was talking to a brick wall. And no sooner had I mentioned my intentions, my parents were demanding my return to Australia. Months later and quite begrudgingly, I did arrive back, and quickly understood the reason I had felt so trapped.

These days, Jewish parents in Australia invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in their children’s Jewish-Zionist education, which by definition encourages them to ensure their destiny is intertwined with Israel. For most people, that implies donating money to ambulance services and soup kitchens in Jerusalem, or continuing the tradition of providing their children with a Jewish education. For others, it might even include sending their children on a trip to see the country and its people for themselves.

But, for most of these pocket-book Zionists, it is easier to write a cheque. The possibility of actually moving to Israel… well, it’s too rash, too extreme, completely out of the question, what about my friends, but I have a job here, I will need to talk to my partner, what would my parents say…

Well, I know what my parents would say, because they said it. Loud and clear – never mind drug addiction, alcohol abuse, marrying the wrong person, pregnancy out of wedlock – the fulfillment of your Jewish-Zionist identity? Over my dead body. And the sick thing is that part of me understands the struggle – as a parent, you want to give your child every opportunity, every chance to excel, to realize their potential, to become a strong, independent character with a keen moral compass. You just don’t envision them actually taking on the challenge and achieving that.

So what would your parents say if you told them you wanted to honour their gift to you, and become the person they imagined you would?

Maybe the question to ask is not what your parents would say, but what they should say. And they should say yes. Because the hardest thing of all for a Jewish child would be to honour hypocrisy.

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