The State of Israel, the nation-state of the Jewish people, has often been defined by the world as a haven for Jews to escape antisemitism and persecution with the powerful memories of the tragedies of the Holocaust as its most horrific expression. However, what is often forgotten is the two-thousand year longing of the vast majority of the Jewish people to reunite with its ancestral homeland in the Land of Israel.
The relationship of the Jewish people and the Land of Israel was generally expressed in religious terms as this precious connection was defined by the constant reminders in its liturgy and observances and through specific commandments that can only be observed in the Land of Israel.
One modern and powerful expression of Jewish connection to its ancient homeland was expressed by Theodor Herzl, a Austrian Jewish attorney, playright and journalist, who organized the First Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland in 1897. Hundreds of delegates from Jewish communities worldwide gathered together to energize Zionism, defined politically as the movement of the Jewish people to create an independent Jewish state in the Land of Israel.
However, another expression of the power of Zionism around the same time of Herzl was defined by the Russian/Ukrainian writer Asher Zvi Hirsch Ginsberg, also known by his pen name Ahad Ha’am. Instead of a political program, he promoted Cultural Zionism defined as a renaissance of Jewish and Hebrew culture and the use of Hebrew as a modern language as 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 is there a role for Zionism to insure a vibrant future of the Jewish people not only in our physical homeland but in Jewish communities all over the world? How do we redefine a Zionist message that goes far beyond conflict and survival?
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, music and art and connection to the Land of Israel as critical tools to energize the present generation of Jews to ensure our Jewish future. Simply put, we must connect them through the vibrancy and creativity of contemporary Israeli culture, to a compelling definition of Zionism and a flourishing Jewish future so needed in our time.