Zionism — standing as strong as ever within the SA Jewish community

By Samuel Hyde — writer, and Jewish and Israel rights activist

Despite the recent global hostility directed towards the State of Israel, the South African Jewish community remains deeply connected and proudly tied to the Jewish State and their Zionist identity.

As seen in the most recent study, a survey conducted by the Kaplan Centre for Jewish Studies at the University of Cape Town and the Institute for Jewish Policy, a London based independent research organisation — 90% of South Africa’s Jewish community feel ‘an attachment to the State of Israel’ and a further 92% agreed with the statement that ‘Israel is the ancestral homeland of the Jewish people’.

With the normalisation of anti-Jewish rhetoric and an anti-Israel bias into wider society lending itself to the violent rise in anti-Semitic attacks — seen on the streets of London and New York to name but a few — it would have been understandable to see a minority community, estimated at 53 000 that make up 0.09% of the South African population, further hide their identity and beliefs in fear. Rather, the survey shows that despite anti-Semitism remaining a major concern for the community, the celebration of Zionism is still of deeply-rooted importance to the community at large. Thirty-two percent say that it is likely they will permanently settle in Israel at some point in the future, and the South African Zionist Federation was widely celebrated for their efforts in making the right of return a reality, something I can personally attest to as someone making Aliyah within the next few weeks.

If there is one thing we have learnt from millennia-long anti-Jewish hate, it’s that assimilating Jewish ideals to suit that of the anti-Semite has never prevented anti-Jewish violence. Something that I have seen, and of great importance to note, is the understanding of this in the majority of South African Jewish Youth. What has made me appreciate our community even more is the fact the we are a 4000-year-old nation of people that have no shortage of varying opinions, and a space for all ideas to be heard, acknowledged and even debated. For Jews who do not identify with Zionism and do not see The South African Zionist Federation and its affiliates as legitimate representatives of their individual opinions, it is equally important to still acknowledge that there are many other structures and services that we all benefit from, afforded us by these very organisations. The point of any collective organisation is to represent a viewpoint or ideology that is of importance to the community at large — this is how democracy operates.

Zionism has a story to tell that is not only about Jews or for Jews. Zionism has a story to tell that, when properly understood, has the power to inspire people and peoples to great acts of daring and sacrifice.

Zionism tells a simple story: Victimhood is not destiny. A history of marginalisation, humiliation, discrimination, persecution, massacres, and even genocide can be transcended. A people, no matter how downtrodden, can find within themselves the power to change their destiny.

When I think of Zionism, I don’t see Theodore Herzl at The First Zionist Congress in Basel. I see the inextricable ties between Zionism and the very foundations of Judaism. I see the ‘portable suitcase’ our ancestors packed upon going into exile, where they took with them our language, our nationality, our belief system and our traditions, all with the promise to one day return us home. I see the previous twelve movements that were unsuccessful in achieving what Zionism has today. I see liberation, Jewish indigenous rights and self-determination in our ancestral homeland. I see a groom stepping on a glass at his wedding while the congregation cheer mazel tov, as the symbolic representation of hope that the children of this marriage will return home. I see the refugees of the Holocaust, and of the Middle Eastern ethnic cleansings from Arab states. I see Ethiopian Jews walking the desert to return to Zion, and the Israeli planes rescuing them from persecution. I see home. I see the most successful de-colonization process. But most importantly I hear the voices of century-old Jews gathered around the seder table reciting ‘next year in Jerusalem’ and I acknowledge we are the ones lucky enough to be the living, breathing reality of that dream.

• Published in the PDF edition of the September 2021 issue – Download here.

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