by Noah Berman, Marketing and Communications Associate
Young Judaea in Israel
On Sunday, September 14th, I was fortunate enough to get to interview author, historian, and Young Judaea alumnus Professor Gil Troy of McGill University. Prof. Troy was speaking at the Yad Ben Tzvi Auditorium in Jerusalem for the inaugural Young Judaea Israel Alumni Lecture Series about the role of “aspirational Zionism” as compared to survival Zionism. It was the fulfillment of one of my Young Judork dreams to sit next to Gil and help moderate what he insisted be a conversation and not a lecture. I remember reading his book “Why I am a Zionist” as an impressionable teenager, on the suggestion of a friend from Young Judaea, and feeling invigorated to create a utopian Jewish State as a result. The thought of discussing his interpretation of the utopianism, or aspirational Zionism as he termed it, got me excited, even if it had to be in front of over 200 participants, staff, and alumni.
I was pleasantly surprised to discover after Gil’s impressive introductory remarks that davka having an auditorium wide conversation, including an “unmoderated caucus,” left me more invigorated than my first introduction to Prof. Troy’s work ten years ago. Seeing so many Judaeans – some only a week into their first Young Judaea program – listening, speaking, and arguing over the future of Zionism was inspiring. Working in marketing, I sometimes get bogged down in statistics and don’t get to see the impact of YJ’s programs. This conversation was certainly an exception.
There was a certain electricity on the bus back to Tel Aviv with WUJS. Many of the 33 twenty-somethings on the program were eager to talk more about the topics from the lecture. Questions were being thrown out and debated. What do we do regarding the Green Line? How do we address the religious-secular divide? How do we (and can we) pursue nationalism in a post-nationalist global arena? I had an interesting discussion with Liba, the WUJS madricha in which she argued that these conversations should revolve around how we perfect Israel and how we use the State as a tool to improve the world. Disembarking in Florentin, I walked home buzzing with excitement. I stopped for a bite at the pizzeria and couldn’t help but smile at the cashier and his friend sitting across from me. Instead of giving me the “why would you smile at a stranger” look so common where I’m from, they tried talking to me and even asked if it was ok with me if they smoked cigarettes – I have to note that this is the first time an Israeli has EVER asked me that.
It got me thinking how our personal actions can be a microcosm of how we bring “aspirational Zionism” to life and how important it is that our programs continue to strive to build dedicated Zionists, social activists, but most importantly mensches – upright decent people who are considerate, listen, and ask, just like the audience did when listening to Gil.