Jodie, head of programming at UJS, reflects on how she can continue associating her Jewish identity with people who stand for beliefs she despises.
Source: Jewish News
I often think about the desire to label and put people into neat boxes, but rarely do people fit only one label, and often, a label can mean different things to any one person.
During my time at UJS, labels have become a necessary part of my day-to-day role. We regularly create successful events geared towards people with certain interests. Those interests are effectively labels. During my first few weeks of the job, I was part of a discussion about Jewish identity. By the end of the discussion, it was fascinating to see the descriptors people attached to their Jewish identity – nearly twice as many as they had at the beginning of the discussion. Labels can help us define but they also help us to explore.
One of the labels I have always used for myself is ‘religious Zionist’. This has always held a special meaning to me. Growing up, I was taught to love and cherish the land of Israel and explore the ancient roots Jewish people have to our homeland.
As a student of Torah, one of my favourite pastimes is mapping places mentioned in the bible onto modern cities and towns. It has always been obvious to me that my Zionist identity is intrinsically linked with my Judaism. God has clearly had an eye on the Jews for a long time, and therefore a natural next step is praying for the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem, as well as peace in our homeland.
To proudly call myself a religious Zionist hasn’t always been easy. Other Zionists, and of course anti-Zionists, have mocked me for my beliefs, called me a fundamentalist and a radical and excluded me from the ‘academic’ conversation because they believe my views were based on faith rather than fact.
Proving that I too have a seat at the table has been an uphill struggle. But I am happy to say I was finally at a point where I was confident in my Zionist identity, and happy to discuss, defend, and proudly proclaim it.
Recent events in Israel changed everything. The election of a party claiming to represent “Religious Zionists” is hugely significant for both the Israeli and diaspora communities. Zionism isn’t simply politics. It’s ideology, it’s deep-rooted belief, and when it comes to religious Zionism, it is something I have a profound connection to.
However, these election results have had a huge effect on my identity, so regardless of the endless debate as to whether diaspora Jews should talk about the elected Government of Israel or not, this is deeper than politics for me.
This goes to the very core of my Zionism.
Politicians such as Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich have claimed ownership over not only the phrase, but the ideology of Religious Zionism.
They have publicised this label to the whole world, proudly and without shame. They have associated this label with racism, homophobia and violence. In doing so, they have disgraced Religious Zionists around the world who do not share these views, myself included. I no longer feel comfortable walking into a room and calling myself a Religious Zionist out of fear that people will now associate me with the likes of Smotrich and their values.
My Religious Zionism is as much a part of my identity as my allyship with LGBTQ+ people, my passion for cross-communalism and my acceptance of people as they are.
Now, I feel at a loss. How can I continue to identify with the Religious Zionism I continue to hold, when that simple label is now associated with so many things I despise?
But I simply cannot let these individuals steal that which is so important to me. I will continue to be a religious Zionist, not because of what they stand for, but in spite of it. I believe in equality, in the rights of all to live how they want, in the importance of the Israel that I love, and in the inalienable rights of two peoples to live side by side in safety, security and prosperity.
And I will do that as a proud religious Zionist.
So, to my fellow religious Zionists, those who will not let racists and homophobes steal the label we are proud of – join me in saying loudly that we are not them and they are not us. Together, we will ensure that they do not take up any of the space we proudly share together.