- Everywhere I Go:Affirming Our Rootedness in Zion and the Earth
Is it possible to maintain a special affection for one piece of land, but to remember in the process to love all lands? That simple question may well be the key to our capacity for unity as am eḥad, a united people, and for our capacity to gain strength from our diverse perspectives. There are those in the Jewish community who treat the world as if bifurcated into two mutually exclusive territories: one can either love Israel or love everywhere else instead. For these brothers and sisters, if one loves Israel, then Israel has to be the exclusive focus of our allegiance and the only real place toward which Jews should cultivate a deep commitment and loyalty. Everywhere else is happenstance, where we merely sojourn in the wanderings that ultimately ought to lead us back to Israel, our one true home.
Then there is an equally strident cluster of people who claim the opposite, who say: “No, here we are in the Diaspora, and we have been fashioning meaningful Jewish lives in the Diaspora for thousands of years. Israel is no different from the rest of the world, and therefore our loyalty ought to be to all of us, everywhere, and we ought not to be looking toward Zion as either home or center.”
The short argument I want to assert is that both of these positions are sterile and propel their own collapse. We cannot love the Earth in abstraction; we cannot, at the same time, be both everywhere and nowhere in particular. Having an identity means cherishing what is distinctively ours, and remembering where we come from—not simply as a memory of our distant [End Page 3] past, but in order to re-create and reformulate our present, cultivating the hopes of our open future. Our rootedness in the Earth is grounding, and we Jews have been blessed to live pretty much everywhere. To treat our ubiquity as nothing more than fortuitous is to miss out on the blessing of the reality of our diverse lives. Yet to confuse the bounty of our living globally with a rejection of our yearning for Zion and the distinctive wonder of a revived Jewish state in our own age would be an error of historic proportions and a betrayal of millennia of Jewish aspirations.
To counter both of these simplistic distortions, let us examine a few selective texts to frame a fuller consideration. The challenge in Jewish life, of course, is that we have precluded precisely this discussion. The one topic contemporary Jews are uncomfortable discussing with each other is Israel, because whatever our feelings about Israel or Zion or Diaspora, each of us feels part of an oppressed minority within the Jewish world. And so we all watch our words, and try to say as little as we can. We can no longer afford the silence, or the evasion. So, for the sake of Zion and Zion’s children, let us speak a fuller truth.
God Fills All the Earth
Let us start very close to the beginning, with God’s words to Jacob:
Your descendants shall be as the dust of the earth; you shall spread out to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south. All the families of the earth shall bless themselves by you, and by your descendants (Genesis 28:14).
Jacob is given this prophecy of Diaspora not as a curse but as promise. These words are a demonstration of divine bounty and plenitude. The fact that we will wander to the corners of the earth is presented as a great opportunity, itself a source of blessing. Notice that the Jewish agenda starts with the particular (“your descendants”), but it quickly moves into the universal (“all the families of the earth”). Our blessing as a people is meaningful to the degree that we engage with, and benefit, the rest of humanity. We are invited to live our lives in such a way that the rest of humanity is motivated to bless us. Confounding any ethnic narcissism, our blessing comes from the peoples...