“Zionism:  The Birth and Transformation of an Ideal”

By Milton Viorst

This book covers the transformation of modern Israel from a country born of uplifting Zionist ideals to an embattled nation-state at war with its neighbors but also with itself.  Viorst’s book reminds us that ideas matter, and maintains that Israel’s most dire existential crisis is from within.

The leaders of the Zionist movement were brilliant, cantankerous, daring, and indefatigable.  They all held one tenet in common:  “that the Jews, for the first time in two millennia, needed to establish their own destiny in their own homeland.”

Milton Viorst has dedicated the bulk of his career to understanding the Middle East.  In this book he looks at the history and evolution of Zionism from Theodor Herzl to the Israel of today; a path Viorst worries has left Israel in a position where it has squandered the goodwill it enjoyed at its founding thus putting the nation’s future on uncertain footing.

Zionism began as a cultural refuge for Jewish people in Europe during the pogroms.  Rabbinic traditional doctrine at the time held that only God could allow the Jewish people to return to the Holy Land.  Viorst shows how the Enlightenment began a notion of secularism that shattered traditional Jewish society.  Following the rise of the Enlightenment was a Jewish emancipation in Europe pushed by the French Revolution’s “Declaration of the Rights of Man.”  At the same time as basic human rights were being accorded Jews in Europe, there arose a powerful wave of anti-Semitism.  This was based in the idea that the hard work and success of the Jewish people in business was due to the Jews being hostile to the rest of society.

Viorst examines the eight most influential men he believes were responsible for Zionism:  Theodor Herzl, Chaim Weizmann, Vladimir Jabotinsky, David Ben-Gurion, Rav Abraham Isaac Kook, his son Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook, Menachem Begin, and Benjamin Netanyahu.  These strong leaders held fast to one common thread in their differing overall philosophies of Jewish existence in a world against them “that Jewish People for the first time in thousands of years must rely on self-determination of their own destiny to save themselves.”  He questions if modern Zionists have gone too far, imperiling Israel and her citizens.

Viorst views present-day Middle East as the clash among three competing forces:  “a deeply conservative Muslim orthodoxy, fundamentalists who seek a return to the values of seventh-century Islam, and ‘modernists’ receptive to the West.”  The book is “controversial, thoughtful and essential reading about Israel’s future.”

Sale Book Cart:  Books for Bucks

Check out the Books for Bucks book cart in the Sha’are Shalom lobby.  We are selling used paperback and hardcover books as a continuing fundraiser for the synagogue.  Paperbacks are 50 cents and hardbacks $1.  Put your cash or check in the container on the cart.

Donations to Books for Bucks will become the property of the Congregation.  Please donate books only in good condition and in quantities of fewer than 25.  Leave your name, phone, email, and the date of your donation in a note with any books you donate.

Contact Lorraine Blatt at 242lorraine@gmail.com or 772-359-7370.

Please remember to leave a note with your name when dropping off books at the library.  Thanks!