MERCAZ USA Newsletter — Winter 2010-2011
Imagining What Herzl Would Say
While a focus on Theodor Herzl for a Zionist essay contest is not unusual, given his crucial role in the development of Zionism, most examinations look at his early Zionist writings and, in particular, his treatise "Der Judenstaat" (in English, "The Jewish State") as their starting point. It is in this slim volume published in 1896 that Herzl set forth the reasons why a Jewish state was necessary as the antidote or solution to the physical dangers of anti-Semitism.
However, Herzl's focus was not limited to "crisis Zionism", as important as the need was at the turn of the 20th century for a solution to anti-Semitism. Rather, Herzl also had very strong opinions about "positive Zionism" and developed these ideas about creating a model Jewish society in his later work of 1902, "Altneuland" ("The Old New Land"). As Herzl himself wrote, "I truly believe that even after we possess our land, Zionism will not cease to be an ideal. For Zionism includes not only the yearning for a plot of promised land legally acquired for our weary people, but also the yearning for ethical and spiritual fulfillment."
Therefore, as the Jewish world celebrated the 150th anniversary of the founder of modern Zionism, this year's the MERCAZ/Women's League essay contest focused on Herzl as the utopian visionary of the Jewish state. It asked the participants to become acquainted with Herzl's novel and to put themselves in Herzl's place, imagining how the founder of Zionism might evaluate the state of Israeli society today: its pluses and minuses.
Nearly three dozen teenagers from North America – Americans and Canadians – took up the challenge to imagine what Herzl would say, either conducting an interview with the Zionist founder about his vision of Israel against the backdrop of the reality of contemporary Israel or imagining what the Jewish state would look like in 2023 (Altneuland imagines a visit in 1923) in comparison to what Herzl imagined one would find there a hundred years earlier.
After two rounds of judging, seven entries were judged prizeworthy. Congratulations to 1st prizewinner Janna Spiegel (Los Angeles, CA); 2nd place – Aliza Aitchison (Los Gatos, CA); 3rd place (tie) – Daniel Jaret (White Plains, NY) & Lainey Paul (Cincinnati, OH); and 4th place (tie) – Harvey Halprin (St. Petersburg, FL), Meital Kupfer (Woodbridge, CT) & Eleanor Milman (North Vancouver, BC, Canada). Scholarships range in size from $150 to $800.
As Dr. David Breakstone, Deputy Chairman of the World Zionist Organization, explains: "[Altneuland] tells us that when we talk about Zionism being not just about the founding of Israel, but about what kind of Israel we're building, then we're not inventing this as a new agenda. Making a better society, talking about issues that face us – that is the heart of Zionism itself."
Rabbi Robert R. Golub, Executive Director of MERCAZ USA, adds, "MERCAZ is committed to contributing to shaping Israel into the 'model society', the 'hevrat mofet' as envisioned by Herzl. As the organization's mission statement reads: '[We have] the responsibility not only to support and defend the State of Israel but also to create in Zion an exemplary Jewish society that is a national home – democratic and pluralistic – for all Jews, secure and at peace with its Arab neighbors, committed to protecting its environment and natural resources, respecting the rights of all of its citizens and supporting all streams of Jewish practice'". Click here for the entire mission statement.
Begun nearly twenty years ago, the essay contest sponsored by MERCAZ USA, MERCAZ Canada and Women's League for Conservative Judaism offers teenagers an opportunity to win scholarships for use on Conservative Movement-sponsored trips and study programs in Israel. A change in the scheduling of the competition to the late winter/early spring allows prizewinners to use their awards towards summer programs taking place the same year. The next competition will take place in 2012. For more information, click through our website.
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