2016-11-23 / Home

Daniel Gordis talks about Zionism as Jewish liberation at Festival of ABC

By DAVID PORTNOE Voice Editor


Judith Nadell and John Langan (right) of Townsend Press welcomed Daniel Gordis, author of “Israel: A Concise History of a Nation Reborn,” to the 27th Annual Bank of America Festival of Arts, Books and Culture of the Katz JCC in Cherry Hill. Gordis signed copies of his book following his presentation. MORE FESTIVAL COVERAGE ON PAGE 12. Judith Nadell and John Langan (right) of Townsend Press welcomed Daniel Gordis, author of “Israel: A Concise History of a Nation Reborn,” to the 27th Annual Bank of America Festival of Arts, Books and Culture of the Katz JCC in Cherry Hill. Gordis signed copies of his book following his presentation. MORE FESTIVAL COVERAGE ON PAGE 12. When many people think of Israel today, the first thing that comes to mind is the conflict with the Palestinians and the Arab states. Too much of the image of Israel has been defined by its wars. Daniel Gordis wants people to focus their attention elsewhere and view the full history of Zionism, Israel, and the nation’s achievements. That, he told an audience at the 27th Annual Bank of America Festival of Arts, Books and Culture of the Katz JCC, is why he wrote “Israel: A Concise History of a Nation Reborn.”

Gordis, who spoke Nov. 14 as part of the weeklong festival of authors, artists, and entertainers, said that his goal was to portray the Zionist movement not just in terms of flags, borders, and an army, but also as the liberation movement of the Jewish people. He said that the reason Israel has had to fight so many wars and engage in an occupation is that the offers of peace Israel has made have been rejected.

Zionism has transformed the Jewish people, Gordis said, from the men poet Chaim Nahman Bialik wrote about, who cowered in fear as their wives and daughters were raped and murdered in European pogroms, to proud Jews living in their own land. He said that in 1945 the iconic picture of a Jew was the famous photo of a Jewish child in the Warsaw Ghetto with his hands up. In 1967, 22 years later, the quintessential Jewish photo was three Israeli paratroopers at the Western Wall liberating Jerusalem.

The famous historian Barbara Tuchman, said Gordis, observed that Israelis alone in the West, spoke the same language, lived in the same land, and practiced the same religion that they did thousands of years ago.

“In the book, I tell the story of the recreation of the Jewish State, and how the State recreated the Jew,” said Gordis.

Gordis said the main problem today is that the children and grandchildren of the people sitting in the audience know only the history of Israel as one of conflict and occupation. He also predicted a very difficult period ahead for Israel supporters on college campuses. If the Trump administration is not pro-Israel, then that would be bad. It would also be bad on campuses if the Trump administration is pro- Israel, predicted Gordis. He said that Trump’s anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, and other policies, coupled with a pro-Israel policy, would only harden the anti- Israel feelings among many college students and professors. Either way, said Gordis, pro- Israel voices on campus would be under greater pressure.

After his prepared remarks, Gordis took questions from the audience. One question asked about the impact of American aliyah to Israel. Gordis, himself an American immigrant to Israel, said that in terms of the intellectual scene, aliyah from the U.S. has had a great impact. He pointed to Shalem College, of which he is senior vice president, as one example. Shalem is a liberal arts college created along the American model of education, rather than the European model that is more focused on training for a profession. Gordis added, however, that demographically, American aliyah has been negligible, particularly among Reform and Conservative Jews. He said that this is why Reform and Conservative Judaism in Israel has few adherents. Most Israelis don’t know a Reform or Conservative Jew. They think of Reform and Conservative Judaism as an “American thing.” 

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