The world, and half-assimilated Jews, often define the State of Israel, the nation-state of the Jewish people, as a haven for Jews to escape antisemitism and persecution. To these relatively passive observers, the Shoah constitutes the most powerful “reason” for the existence of the State of Israel. However, what they often forget is the two-thousand year longing of the vast majority of the Jewish people to reunite with its ancestral homeland, the Land of Israel, and to reconstitute itself as a free people in that land.
Historically, Jews expressed their relationship with the Land of Israel was generally expressed in traditional terms. They instilled, commemorated, renewed, and transmitted this precious connection through their daily liturgy, through traditional observances, and by performing a multitude of specific commandments. Notably, they also fulfilled that connection by immigrating to the ancestral homeland as individuals and as groups, in order to perform a myriad commandments that, according to Halakhah, can only be observed in the Land of Israel.
One modern and powerful expression of the Jewish connection to the ancient homeland was that which Theodor Herzl developed, embodied, and propagated. An Austrian Jewish attorney, playright and journalist, Herzl organized the First Zionist Congress, which took place in Basel, Switzerland in 1897. In Basel, Hundreds of delegates from Jewish communities worldwide gathered to give a modern expression to Zionism, and thus to define it politically as the movement of the Jewish people to create an independent Jewish state in the Land of Israel.
Another modern expression of the power of Zionism around was defined by the Russian/Ukrainian writer Asher Zvi Hirsch Ginsberg, known by his pen name, Ahad Ha’am (“One of the People”). Instead of a political program, Ahad Ha’am promoted Cultural Zionism, whose central aim was to acheive a renaissance of Jewish and Hebrew culture in the Land of Israel. For Cultural Zionists, the use of Hebrew as a modern language was paramount. In short, they approached Hebrew a tool to revive the spirit of the Jewish people.
Today, over 73 years after the founding of the State of Israel, our generation struggles not with Israel’s political existence but with the question of whether Zionism has a role in ensuring a vibrant future for the Jewish people, not only in our physical homeland but in Jewish communities all over the world. A key, ancillary question is: How should we redefine the Zionist message for Israelis and Diaspora communities so that it goes far beyond addressing issues of physical survival and the on-going conflict with Israel’s enemies?
In the spirit of Ahad Ha’am, it is the vision of The Israel Innovation Fund to promote Israeli, Hebrew and Jewish culture–its creativity, including music and art, in order to highlight Jews’ connection to the Land of Israel. TIIF approaches Israeli creativity is a critical tool for energizing the present generation of Jews to ensure our Jewish future. Simply put, we must connect young Jews to Israel through the vibrancy and creativity of contemporary Israeli culture, and thus promote, instill, and transmit a compelling definition of Zionism as the means of creating a flourishing Jewish culture in our time, as well as a flourishing Jewish future.