“The Zionist Ideas: Visions for the Jewish Homeland― Then, Now, Tomorrow” by Gil Troy— Updating Zionism

Troy,Gil. “The Zionist Ideas: Visions for the Jewish Homeland― Then, Now, Tomorrow”, with an introduction by Natan Sharansky, (JPS Anthologies of Jewish Thought), Jewish Publication Society, 2018.

Updating Zionism

Amos Lassen

Growing up, Arthur Hertzberg’s “The Zionist Idea” was part of my life as I am sure it was with many Young Judaeans. It was until the publishing of Gil Troy’s “The Zionist Ideas” the most comprehensive Zionist collection ever published. But as time marches on, so do ideologies and what was old had to be updated. “The Zionist Ideas: Visions for the Jewish Homeland—Then, Now, Tomorrow” is the definitive look at the diverse and shared visions for the realization of Israel as a democratic Jewish state. Troy builds on Arthur Hertzberg’s classic, “The Zionist Idea”, Gil and explores the back stories, dreams, and legacies of more than 170 passionate Jewish visionaries (four times the number in Hertzberg and that number includes women, mizrachim, and others.

Troy divides the thinkers into six Zionist schools of thought—Political, Revisionist, Labor, Religious, Cultural, and Diaspora Zionism and by doing so, he reveals “the breadth of the debate and surprising syntheses”. He also introduces these visionaries within three major stages of Zionist development that show the length and evolution of the conversation. Part 1 (pre-1948) introduces the pioneers who founded the Jewish state; those that many f us are so familiar with— Theodore Herzl, A. D. Gordon, Ze’ev Jabotinsky, HaRav Kook, Echad Ha’am, and Henrietta Szold. Part 2 (1948 to 2000) looks at the builders who actualized and modernized the Zionist blueprints, such as Ben-Gurion, Berlin, Meir, Begin, Soloveitchik, Uris, and Kaplan. Part 3 showcases today’s torchbearers, including Barak, Grossman, Shaked, Lau, Yehoshua, and Sacks.

With the addition of these new voices, we have diverse ideologies that reinvigorate the Zionist conversation with the development of the moral, social, and political character of the Jewish state of today and the future.

Troy presents an impressive range of thinkers, from the past and the present, from the left to the right, along with commentary, all of which affirm the enduring moral character of the Zionist idea: the fact that Zionism aside safeguarding the Jewish state, “is anchored in a humanistic ideology of universal resonance.”

Today we  live in a world of Zionist ideas with many different ways to help Israel flourish as a democratic Jewish state. We have a revived Zionist conversation, a renewed Zionist vision and these can help to give us a Jewish state that reaffirms meaning for those already committed to it, while at the same time, addressing the needs of Jews physically separated from their ancestral homeland, as well as those who feel spiritually detached from their people. I believe that a lot of conversation will come out of this book and as we talk about it, we will see, in the words of Natan Sharansky “How lucky we are to have this new book, filled with old-new ideas, Theodor Herzl style, to guide this important and timely conversation.”

Hertzberg gave us a great deal to think about just as Troy does here. It is as if we are bring asked to share a new vision for Jewish nationalism that is due to come into being. Theories of Zionism did not end with the creation of the State of Israel, they continue today. This new book expands our range of vision, as it looks at Zionism in its political, religious, and cultural dimensions as imagined by Zionists both in Israel and the Diaspora. 

Reading this is like being on a tour of Zionist thought that Troy is leading us through as he analyzes Zionism’s evolution from its early ideology as a national movement to its development of its own philosophy that underpins of its own manifestation to the miracle of statehood for the Jewish people.  We look at a diversity of views about an ideology that has actually come to life and we see the maturation of Zionism as part of a vibrant nation.

In 1959 JPS published Arthur Hertzberg’s “The Zionist Idea” and it became the foremost anthology of Zionist literature in the English language, and it was an inspiration for generations of young Jews throughout the Diaspora.

Zionism is also a way of launching ideas about what Judaism means, how Jewish nationalism can inspire us, and what Israel can mean to each of us. We can see Zionism as a framework for “learning more about our past, finding meaning in the present, and building a more inspiring future by working together as a people – and by seeing Israel as a living old-new laboratory for exciting new ideas and meaningful traditional values.”

We see here the power of liberal nationalism as a force for good in the world that galvanizes people to work together through the magic of democratic patriotism. Perhaps the biggest change that we immediately see is in the title of the book, We have moved from the Zionist idea to the Zionist ideas. Now we can attempt to answer the question of what Zionism means to each individual and what does Israel mean to me?” liberal nationalism mean to me?” Free download discussion guides can be found at www.thezionistideas.com.

One thought on ““The Zionist Ideas: Visions for the Jewish Homeland― Then, Now, Tomorrow” by Gil Troy— Updating Zionism

  1. Gil Troy

    Thank you Amos for your thoughtful and generous review of the Zionist Ideas. I am particularly gratified that you picked up on a key idea which few others have — that Zionism and this book show the power of Liberal Nationalism – when it is in retreat in too many parts of the West. Gil Troy


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