Israel Religious Action Center
of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism

D'var Torah - Achrei Mot-Kedoshim

By Rabbi Leigh Lerner

Zionism -- New Series, Re-run, Canned?

  • Seinfeld is still a favorite.  Before the TV series came to an end, many predictions of the  final episode came forth:
  • Jerry wakes up next to Bob Newhart and realizes it was all just a dream.
  • Jerry finally accomplishes his goal of dating every single  woman in NYC.  His number is then retired into the rafters with Wilt


  • Everyone watches helplessly as the Soup Nazi invades Poland.
  • 105-year-old Elaine recounts how Jerry's apartment hit an iceberg.
  • However Seinfeld came to a close, it has been followed by years of re-runs, so that anyone can catch up on what they missed.  But eventually, like "I Love Lucy" and "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" even the re-runs will come to an end.

These days, we hear people speak of Zionism as if it were a TV show that has run its course.  They say, like the title of this week’s parasha, it is “Acharei Mot,” after death, for the original goal of Zionism was a Jewish state.  Since we reached that goal in 1948, some have categorized any Zionist enterprise as a re-run, a re-play of old ideas seen and heard before, even as a dead idea.  Soon, we are told, the last hurrah of Zionism as a Jewish movement will be heard, and the Jewish people will carry on with their business, inside or outside the Land.
What, then, is the use of Zionism in a world where Zion has been rebuilt and exists?  Can it seem like an exciting new series?  Or must it always be a re-run destined to be taken off the air?
Let’s begin with the word itself.  The traditional prayerful desire for the restoration of Zion does not necessarily indicate a desire to rebuild the ancient Temple of Jerusalem, for the Temple was not built on Mt. Zion.  Mt. Zion overlooks the Temple Mount, but it also overlooks what once was the City of David and the bulk of ancient Jerusalem.  In a sense, the restoration of Zion calls for the restoration of vision: the ability to see a possible Jerusalem  -- a Jerusalem yet to be, excelling in her religion, her ethic, her governance, and everyday life of home and commerce, but surely a real Jerusalem of the physical as well as spiritual realm.
Zionism, then, summons us to Mt. Zion not only to enjoy the view of a state re-established, but to re-view, re-think, re-hope Jewish life in the Land of Israel.  Zionism means Ahavat Tsiyon, love of Zion, in our time.   
Through Zionism, we Jews who do not reside in Israel express our share in her life.  If we give up on Zionism, we give up our ability to influence Israelis.  When we give up our ability to influence Israeli life, we help to destroy klal Yisrael, the unity of the community of Israel, so that ultimately neither Jewry can survive.
True love of Zion does not mean simple satisfaction with the status quo.  It means standing upon the hilltop and re-visioning Erets Yisrael.  To be a Zionist today means bringing the democratic concerns of the West into the Middle East.  It means asking Israelis questions about their singular and bizarre electoral system.  It means bringing liberal Judaisms of the West to touch the life of Israelis in the street, offering alternatives to right-wing Orthodoxy.  It means importing to Israel a western awareness of social problems, whether gender  discrimination in the market place or concerns about spousal or child abuse.
Love of Zion means taking the longest view, the highest view, the widest view of Jewish life in Israel.  And then the lover of Zion must find a practical way to act on the vision.  Perhaps it's through UJA, JNF, Israel Bonds.  These long-standing organizations continue to make their contribution.  But there are different players on the block, like the New Israel Fund and its social democracy initiatives.  New Israel Fund supports social change to benefit recent immigrants from the East Bloc and Ethiopia, environmental initiatives, and civil rights.
Another strong newer player is ARZA, the Association of Reform Zionists, and its bid for religious pluralism.  On the spot in Jerusalem to defend human rights, to defend pluralism as a Jewish way of life, the Israel Religious Action Center also plays a strong role in shaking up the good old boys, whether in the back rooms of Israeli politics or those on the men’s side of the mechitsa among the ultra-Orthodox. 
In the past, love of Zion meant building Israel with our dollars.  Now our love of Zion also builds Israel with the Diaspora's moral and ethical contributions.
Zionism also teaches us to be Ohev HaBeriyot, a lover of humanity. 
From their earliest days, Zionists discussed the place of the Arab in Israel.  They knew that a Jewish State would comprehend other peoples besides Jews, and how Israel treated the Arab would be the measure of its success not only as a land of liberty, but as an expression of Jewish love of all humanity, of loving our neighbor as ourselves, to quote today's Torah portion.
No one is more aware of the treatment of minorities than Diaspora Jews.  Israelis live as a majority in their land.  We live as a minority in ours.  We know the heart of the stranger, and we have experience that gives us something to say about it.  Zionism offers us the channels to say it, the route to challenge any Israeli complacency about its treatment of minority groups.
Whether we like it or not, Diaspora Jewry remains the single group of Jews best qualified to become amicus curiae, the friend of the court, in matters that concern the civil rights of Israel's Arab minority.  That's why such groups as Rabbis for Human Rights, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, and Interns for Peace gain an increasing following in the West.  Zionism's Ohev HaBeriyot, love of humanity, asks us and asks Israelis to re-vision the rights and opportunities of the Arab minority in a Jewish State.  Ohev HaBeriyot demands that we judge Israel's success not only by her redemption of the Jewish people from captivity, but also by her equal treatment of non-Jewish citizens.
When we sing Ki Mitsiyon Tetsei Torah, we put forth the hope that the Torah will go forth from Zion in the future.  We want Jerusalem to be that city unto which all nations flow for ethical and moral inspiration.  It also means that we sincerely want a connection to the thought and action of Erets Yisrael. 
Some Israelis now say, let us stop fooling ourselves with this Zionism business.  We don't need the Diaspora.  We would be better off not accepting their money, not asking for it, and managing for ourselves.
To them we say, our Zionism not only urges us to bring you what we have learned in the West about being a Jew.  It not only pushes us to guard carefully the rights of the minority.  It also demands that we be shareholders.  Don't cut off our tangible gifts, because our tsedaka makes us feel as though we have a ticket to participate. 
Because we give, we not only believe that we can have a say, but we also will come to the annual meeting to listen to the progress report, to hear the Torah that is coming from Jerusalem.  We say to Israel, we are part of you.  You are part of us.
Zionism is not an old series in re-run, and it certainly will not be off the air.  Zionism is renewing itself at this very instant, and I invite you to walk down new Zionist avenues of concern with me and others in our congregation who have made ARZA and ARZA-Canada, the Association of Reform Zionists, the largest single Zionist entity in North America, and perhaps even the most influential.  Take advantage of the opportunity to join ARZA.  Let us take our part in creating a land from which Torah can go forth to the world, the word of the Eternal One from Jerusalem.

Rabbi Leigh Lerner was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Rabbi Lerner graduated from Duke University with a degree in English, after which he entered Hebrew Union College.  He was ordained in 1972. Rabbi Lerner’s first pulpit was at Mount Zion Temple in St. Paul, Minnesota, where he was Assistant Rabbi for three years and Senior Rabbi for the following fourteen. Among his many communal activities in St. Paul, Rabbi Lerner is especially proud of being instrumental in renewing Black-Jewish dialogue.

In March 1989, Rabbi Lerner was appointed Senior Rabbi at Temple Emanu-El-Beth Sholom, where he quickly immersed himself in our community, learning French while earning a vital place in the hearts of our congregants. Rabbi Lerner's activities in Montreal are very impressive, having served as:

  • President of the Montreal Board of Jewish Ministers (1992-95); currently Secretary Treasurer
  • President of the Canadian Region Central Conference of Reform Rabbis
  • Member of the Board of Mazon Canada, a Jewish Response to Hunger
  • Vice-President of ARZA (Canadian Association of Reform Zionists)
  • Member of the Board of Directors, League of Human Rights in Montreal
  • Member of the Board of Editorial Contributors of the Montreal Gazette
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