Developing a Relationship With Israel and the Holocaust

Conversion transforms formerly neutral territory into emotionally fraught real estate.

Print this page Print this page

The initial response of stunned silence slowly gave way to awed applause. Ultimately, his anti-Semitic peers rose and gave him a standing ovation. In 1916, Louis Brandeis became the first Jew appointed to the United States Supreme Court.

Conversion Also Demands a New Loyalty--Israel

Becoming a Jew means that Israel belongs to you, just as the Torah and Shabbat [Sabbath] belong to you. But it's no easy matter forging a genuine connection to an adoptive spiritual homeland in an unseen and embattled nation on the other side of the planet. And it's not simple resolving the question of dual loyalties once you are, potentially at least, a citizen of that country.

Of course, Israel is more than a small nation in the Middle East. The land of Israel is embedded in four thousand years of Jewish life. In Genesis and throughout the Torah, Israel was the land that God promised and the Jewish people sought, longed for, settled, fought over, were exiled from, and returned to. In every generation since the destruction of the Jewish state during the first century CE, Jews in the Diaspora turned their bodies toward Israel when they prayed. Israel was a place to send tzedakah [charitable contributions] and the destination for Jewish pilgrims. Israel was a name for the dream of redemption from the suffering of life in Diaspora.

The Zionist movement of the 19th century sought to turn what had been a religious goal of redemption and sa1vation into a political safe haven for world Jewry. That goal was only realized in 1948, after the Holocaust had wiped out one-third of the world's Jewish population. The nations of the earth had denied asylum to hundreds of thousands of Jews who escaped but were sent back to Germany to die. The state of Israel was founded amid cries of "Never again," and the first act of the newly created state was the enactment of a "Law of Return," which grants citizenship and safe harbor to all Jews, everywhere. Today, of course, Israel is a modern state as well as a metaphor for redemption and safety. At Passover, when Jews end the seder [ritual meal] with the traditional statement "Next year in Jerusalem," the words conjure up real memories as well as a dream of peace. For Jews who have visited or lived in Israel's capital city, "Next year in Jerusalem" calls to mind memories of sunlight on the city's renowned limestone and a particular feeling of being at home.

For Jews-by-choice, and indeed for Diaspora Jews in general, visiting the land of Israel is really the only way to create a personal connection to Eretz Yisrael--the land of Israel.

A first trip to Israel is inevitably a watershed Jewish experience, which includes awe at the physical beauty and historical resonance of the place, and an ineffable sense of confirmation in knowing that nearly everyone else on the street--including the taxi driver and the garbage collector--is a Jew, too.

Did you like this article?  MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.

Please consider making a donation today.

Anita Diamant

Anita Diamant is a writer. Her books include Choosing a Jewish Life, The New Jewish Wedding, Saying Kaddish, and The Red Tent, a novel. She lives in Newton, Massachusetts.