Being raised Catholic in South Texas means that Israel was never on my radar. My family didn’t, and honestly still doesn’t, have any strong opinions or stakes in the questions of the Middle East. Even when I began studying Judaism in high school, Israel still never really crossed my mind. It wasn’t until I was in college at a liberal arts school, that has the goal of getting students to “think globally” in the mission statement, that I began to learn about Israel. Most of my classes revolved around ancient Israel and it wasn’t until I became interesting in visiting Israel that I pushed myself to learn about the modern state of Israel and the Middle East.
Even though I knew little to nothing about modern Israel, the negative side of the State was the majority of the information I learned. I quickly learned numerous reasons for boycotts and sanctions against Israel. With these thoughts in the background, which are voices I still hear on a fairly regular basis, I felt supporting Israel meant being judged as someone who was against human rights, uneducated and noncritical.
“Zionist” became a dirty word. It was a word associated with the extreme political right, and a word I dreaded being associated with. I distinctly remember a conversation during my first trip to Israel, studying abroad in the Summer of 2011, where I became apologetic for thinking about moving to Israel for school or work in the future. I had to explain that I was drawn to the land, culture and history but NOT a Zionist. I didn’t want to be mistaken for having the ideals traditionally, and negatively, associated with Zionist ideals. I knew I wanted to dwell in the Land, but didn’t want to keep others from also making this Land there home. I wanted to live freely as a Jew in Israel, but not if that meant others couldn’t live freely in the same Israel. I wanted to gain every opportunity the Land had for me, the hopes and dreams of the past 4,000 years, but never at the expense of another human being.
These are all things I still want, and even though there are caveats to each, I have realized that this doesn’t mean I am not a Zionist. Zionism doesn’t have to been colonialist or racist. It doesn’t have to deny other people rights or support dispossession. At it’s best, Zionism does none of these things and still promotes a Jewish (Democratic) State in the Land that has become defined as Israel.
This doesn’t mean I can’t be critical. It doesn’t mean I can’t hold the same values I did before, i.e. justice, equality. It does mean that I encourage a Jewish State that at it best holds true to the Jewish value of dignity of the human person.
I am reaching a stage where I am not ashamed to say, “My name is Elisheva, and I am a Zionist.”