About The Author
Liya Rechtman is a Dorot Fellow 16-17 living in Jerusalem. She is an ARZA Trustee and was previously a Legislative Assistant at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.
When I was in high school, and preparing to attend my first ever anti-(Iraq) war protest I was sure I knew what to bring. I donned my big, green Doc Marten boots (for stomping), wrapped myself in a scarf (for breathing through tear gas), and threw power bars and a water bottle in my backpack (emergency provisions are the cornerstone of any successful political action). Before I left, my U.S. History teacher handed me two extra pieces of protest gear – a pocket U.S. Constitution and an American flag. “Wrap the flag around you,” He told me, “Protesting is an act of patriotism!”
As a Jewish Israeli-American, I believe that the same standards apply to my American patriotism as to my Zionism. That is to say, protesting and criticizing Israel is an act of love and necessary for the continued viability of the Zionist project.
I am writing now from my favorite café in Jerusalem. I am here between meetings with my editor (about a piece I’m working on the uniqueness of Israel as a physical place) and my anti-Occupation collective. I am deeply committed to the vision of the Association of Reform Zionists of America to connect American Reform Jews to Israel and build the Reform Movement in Israel, and I stand with If Not Now when they protest Jewish institutions that refuse to stand up against the Occupation. These actions and affiliations are not in contradiction with each other but in concert.
I am not the same kind of Zionist as my parents, but I am a Zionist. I am a Zionist in that I care about the future of the Jewish people, and our future is inextricably intertwined with the Jewish State. I am a Zionist in that I am a feminist and therefore I believe in the specificity of space, and that the material, tangible world matters. I am a Zionist in that I believe in the right of all peoples, including the Jewish people, to self-determination.
There is power in names. As United States Supreme Court Justice Reinhart says in overturning Proposition 8: “A rose by any other name may smell as sweet, but to the couple desiring to enter into a committed lifelong relationship, a marriage by the name if ‘registered domestic partnership’ does not.” There are many ways to describe American Jewish relationships to Israel, but none are quite so potent as naming and claiming that connection across nations and cultures as “Zionism.” In short, I am a Zionist because I believe that there is immense power in the “Z word.”
In the same way that I wrapped the flag around myself during my first ever protest, I envelop myself in an understanding of Zionism, both the history and future of the word and of the Jewish people. Protesting is a form of engagement and an enactment of my loyalty to the Jewish people. Taking back the Z, as ARZA President Rabbi Josh Weinberg phrased it, is the obligation of the next generation of American Jewish leaders and the Reform Movement.
This Blog is part of a series on Taking Back the Z read them all!