Letter from the Editor
For my post high school gap year I studied in an Israeli Midrasha. While at first I struggled to catch on to classes in hebrew and grappled with cultural differences like casual lice breakouts, army time, and the consumption of whole cucumbers for breakfast, I eventually grew to love the authentically Israeli environment, one that felt wonderfully foreign and new in the best way. Unsurprisingly, this newness struck me most on Yom Ha’atzmaut. I was awed by the ecstatic hallel we sang together to the beat of a guitar and a pair of drums that morning. I had never felt so joyous, and so close to the center of joy, on Yom Ha’atzmaut before.
A week later, still on a high, I asked one of my American friends what she had thought of the celebrations. To my disbelief she told me that she really hadn’t enjoyed the day very much at all. In fact, she said, it made her miss her home. Her community always has such meaningful Yom Ha’atzmaut events and festivities and she missed them. The whole community gets so involved, they care so much, and everyone just feels so connected to and so thankful for the State of Israel. Away from home, she just hadn’t felt that connection.
There is no ‘right way’ to relate to Israel and Diaspora. Each of our relationships to these weighty notions is inextricably tied to our upbringings, our communities, our friends, our families, and our life experiences. The words themselves carry different meanings for different people and generations. For the generation of the Holocaust, they may signify a Redemption in the State of Israel and the intense suffering of Exile. For many young people today, they might invoke the long debate between Homeland and home as we face the question of Aliyah in the age of Nefesh B’Nefesh.
As Dr. Ronnie Perelis notes, the way we carry these experiences of Israel and Diaspora with us has been reflected throughout history in the way we write, speak, and even sing. While Dr. Perelis emphasizes the way Diaspora cultures make themselves distinct, Chaim Metzger, in his treatment of sports in history and Halakhah, notes the problem caused by the lure of the Hellenistic arena, one that mirrors the challenge of assimilation faced by numerous Diaspora communities.
The formation of the modern State of Israel has brought on numerous new perspectives how we should relate to our Promised Land. The clear dichotomy between Israel and Diaspora, between Redemption and Exile, has become far more blurry as the Jewish people are still in Exile, but are able to live autonomously in the our homeland.
Many religious leaders have grappled with this new reality and have come to varied conclusions. Works from a few such seminal Religious Zionist leaders are treated in this issue. Rabbi Rosensweig discusses the unique contributions of R. Soloveitchik – a rabbi of the Diaspora – to the Religious Zionist movement. Leead Staller and Matt Lubin review books of R. Soloveitchik and R. Lichtenstein respectively, while Reuven Herzog explores Rav Kook’s approach to slavery and the Torah. Avraham Wein delves into the views of R. Soloveitchik, R. Lichtenstein, R. Amital, and the followers of Rav Kook on territorial compromise in Israel. In their review of Letters to Talia, Chani Grossman and Avigayil Rosensweig look at these same issues brought on by the modern state through the eyes of two Israeli teenagers, a hesder student and a secular kibbutznik.
There are so many ways to see and experience Israel and Diaspora. So complex is each of our relationships to these concepts that a student at an Israeli Midrasha, could, because of the spirit of her hometown, feel closer to Israel when she is a thousand miles away from it, than when she was standing in its hills.
In this issue of Kol Hamevaser we have gathered a diverse array of articles to reflect this diversity of experience. We hope it gives you pause to think.