Rereading Israel: The Spirit of the Matter

by Bonna Devora Haberman

Rereading Israel: The Spirit of the Matter refreshes current conversations about Israel, while setting aside vitriolic debates and worn postures. This book opens Jewish sources to interpret Israel in critical, innovative, and inspiring ways. Rereading Israel presents an opportunity to engage ethically, intellectually, and emotionally — challenging us to apply our finest resources to grapple honestly and creatively with land and people, history, text, and spirit. Especially when Israel is embattled, this book peels open fruitful and compelling perspectives.

Zion Cycle

Sigmund Freud persuaded modern culture about the deep unconscious layers of the human mind. Through analysis of unconscious experience, people can achieve greater self-understanding and capability to choose our life paths willfully. The psychoanalytic tradition encourages people to probe their early family histories and relationships, and to interpret effects on their lives. Interactions with parents and siblings form the dynamic and backdrop of personal biography. Understanding early experiences, patterns, unresolved connections, dreams and desires frees people to live more intentionally.

Similarly to the way each individual belongs to his or her personal family context, every person also belongs to a cultural context, to a people or peoples. Just as primary family relationships are significant even at unconscious levels, so also are the ties of peoplehood and culture. Theodore Herzl, parent of modern Zionism, lived and studied in Vienna from 1878, at the same time that Freud was developing his theories. In many respects, Herzl’s modern dream of the homeland for the Jewish people is a national version of the individual unconscious that Freud suggested.

From the biblical narrative onward, throughout the better part of five millennia, the Jewish People has been exceedingly attentive to the land of Israel. The term, “Zion Cycle” describes a biography of the Jewish people that unfolds in history and imagination, conscious and unconscious. Movement toward, incursion into, settling, conflict and destruction, exile, dwelling in the Diaspora, yearning, and returning to the land of Israel form a complex and cyclical narrative. The flow toward and away from Israel beats at the heart of Jewish experience, pulsing life-blood into Jewish identity and agency. Both historically and in the modern Zionist period, motions to and from Israel transpire on the geographic territory of the earth. Even more, they have been transpiring in the Jewish psyche. Though a large proportion of world Jewry has not literally made the journey to Israel, Jews have been experiencing the journey to and from Zion in the realms of spirit and imagination. Patterns of immigration and war, mystic fantasy, prayers, anguish, and desperate longing all infuse the Zion Cycle with archetypal significance.

Each member of the Jewish people is on the Zion Cycle, whether coming or going, yearning, ignoring, resisting or condemning. For some, the relationship to Zion is one of endearment and mutual sustenance, for others, an undiscovered passion or a critical tension, for yet others, denial, repression, or (self)hatred. Whatever the posture, the Jewish connection to Israel is as undeniable as one’s personal family, lineage, and roots. Zion organizes a Jewish national biography, a metanarrative of world Jewry.

Proposing the Zion Cycle as a foundation of Jewish experience is highly contentious. For people who have lived most of their lives without considering a relationship with Israel, or that Israel is significant to them, the Zion Cycle is foreign and even objectionable. Interrupting the flow of life in order to be present – intellectually, emotionally, physically – in a relationship with Israel marks
one’s personal biography on the itinerary of the Zion Cycle. The relatively recent attainment of Israeli statehood affords each Jew the possibility to investigate and delve into her/his motion on the Zion Cycle. This is an achievement for which Jews have longed during extended periods of exile, a precious gift for which we must continue to earn and demonstrate worthiness, and take responsibility. The quality of our presence depends upon our intentions.

It is undoubtedly possible and fashionable to be impervious or inimical, to shun Israel. Resisting the Zion Cycle is a posture of least resistance, particularly in these times. John Lennon popularized the dream of peace built on universal, undifferentiated one-ness – by erasing or overcoming outmoded religious and national ideas. [Imagine.] However, acknowledging, refining, and expressing our cultures neither limits our humanity nor condemns us to strife. Just as our specific personal biography contributes to our identity and enriches our membership in society, so also our cultural, national, ethnic, religious, spiritual, and linguistic identities can contribute to the richness of human life. This precious richness gives meaning to pluralism and diversity. This book aims for open, meaningful, ethical, and creative engagement with Zion.

This article can be found on The Times of Israel.


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