A story from my recent visit to Israel.

One of the schools I went to check out was a high school in Baka al Garbiyeh.
A friend brought me over to meet with the principal of the school, and I sat for about three hours with the man in his office, on the third floor. I went through my power point presentation on my laptop on a table in his office, and both he and the head of his English 'department' gave me wonderful feedback.
They offer you a lot of coffee in that many hours, and I had to borrow the key to the restroom a few times.
I really had time to talk to him, and to explain exactly why I thought helping his students would strengthen his community, which is part of Israel, and therefore strengthen Israel, and so came out of my ideology; my positive vision of Zionism and democracy. Finally, Nizar, the principal, gave me a letter asking for the English and civil society program I had described to him, and I went back to Kiryat Malachi, or whatever I was doing that night. (Kiryat Malachi is about an hour and a half drive from Baka and Jizr al Zarka.)
When I finally stepped into the apartment in Kiryat Malachi later that night, I put my hand in my jacket pocket and took out - the keys to the third-floor bathroom in the Baka Comprehensive high school.
I thought "Great. Won't that just make a wonderful impression! 'I remember him - he's the guy who stole our bathroom key!'"
So, early the next morning, I took a detour on the way to Jizr al Zarqa, and went back to Baka. I drove into the school and walked up the stairs, knocked on the door, heard something from the other side, and went in. Nizar was having a meeting with three guys around the table, but he brightened up when he saw me and said (in Hebrew) "Yigal! Mah Inyanim? Hakol B'seder?" (Like - "what's up? everything ok?")
I said, "Lo Bidiuk" ("not exactly"). Then I held out my hand and showed the key.
He started to laugh, and then the rest of them laughed, and when they stopped, Nizar introduced me to the three guys, and said a few words about the program we are trying to start in their school, in Baka al Garbiyeh, Israel.
Then he said "He does this out of his Zionism. And I agree with him 100%."
I was surprised, but also very pleased.

Before heading out to my car, I tried to buy a soda at the school 'canteen' with a few dollars (I had no shekels on me at that minute, and shekels are the currency everyone uses). The fellow behind the counter - to whom the principal had introduced me the day earlier - handed me a can of Coke and said "Even if you give me Israeli money I still won't take it"!

I continued on towards the parking area. The Hebrew words "Merkaz Pais Kehilati" were posted in large letters on a wall.
It was only about ten o'clock in the morning, but it was already a great day.

("Pais" is the Israeli lottery. The sign shows that the building was built by the Israeli government using lottery money.
There are similar signs on schools and community centers in just about every town in Israel, including Arab Israeli towns.)

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Comment by Yigal D. Kahana on March 8, 2009 at 9:01pm
I guess we have different definitions of Zionism.

Even if Zionism is a specifically Jewish endeavor, that would still include my Jewish endeavors.
Actions to strengthen the character of Israel as the Jewish state are Zionist to me.

It says "Lihiyot Am Chofshi B'Artzenu."
What is that "Chofesh" that "Freedom"?
It, like Zionism, is the freedom to be as Jewish as we want to be in Zion - Israel.
A freedom that was denied us for almost 2000 years.
Not an exclusivity clause just for Jews.
And if anyone is unfree then it is less than a free country. Unfair restrictions on others also restrict me.
Another way of saying taht is that the freedoms that protect others also protect us.

So by my definition, actions that contribute to the well being of Israel absolutely qualify as Zionist.
Even when they benefit Arabs. Because that will make us all freer, and get along better in society.
And I see a better future for a healthy country with well-integrated minorities,
than for a country that only concerns itself with the rights of one sub-group.

But again, the original vision was for Jerusalem to be a place of prayer for all nations,
and for Israel to be a diverse society. I see nowhere that it says that Zionism is only to benefit Jews,
or exists only to build a Jewish-only society.
Comment by Tomer Z on March 6, 2009 at 10:35pm
Maybe I should elaborate. I see Zionism as a specifically Jewish endeavor. Therefore actions to strengthen the Jewish character of Israel are Zionist (I am not debating here whether this is a good thing or a bad thing, that is a different question)
While actions that contribute to the well being of Israel are not Zionist, just Israeli.
That's my definition anyway.
Comment by Tomer Z on March 6, 2009 at 10:12pm
I do appreciate what you are doing. Really. I just don't see how a "desire to see Israel as healthy and harmonious as possible" is Zionism.
So I guess my question to you is - what is Zionism to you Yigal
Comment by Yigal D. Kahana on March 6, 2009 at 9:50pm
Thanks for checking this out, Tomer!

What is Zionist about this?

As Nizar understands, the only reason I am doing this is as a function of my Zionism.
My desire to see Israel as healthy and harmonious as possible.
If this program can help Arab Israeli students to succeed on the English bagrut, that will all by itself
have a beneficial effect on their local community, and on Israeli society - which they are part of - as well.
If it also educates them about civil society - "no one is born knowing these things,"
as one of my Ethiopian Israeli students once said to me.
That will also have a beneficial effect on their community, and on Israeli society.

What could be more Zionistic?
Comment by Tomer Z on March 6, 2009 at 9:31pm
It's a positive story but what exactly is the zionism aspect of it?
Comment by Yigal D. Kahana on February 10, 2009 at 10:28pm
I was offering US dollars.

Thanks. I will try to post more soon.
Comment by Paul RETI on February 8, 2009 at 1:06am
Again Yigal: Thanks for sharing and showing what peacemaking is really about.
Comment by Yigal D. Kahana on February 4, 2009 at 9:27pm
And vice versa, John.
There is no organization I know of whose mission it is to inform the public of how many Israelis have gotten to know their Arab neighbors.
In JIzr al Zarqa, for example, there's an Israeli organization which set up a center for afterschool tutoring.
They don't exactly have an English program - yet - but do have Israeli volunteers who devote their time to helping.
One (named Tim) just moved from the US and lives in nearby Zichron Yaakov.
This is not unusual in Israel.
Comment by Yigal D. Kahana on February 4, 2009 at 7:32pm
Thanks, Melissa
I think that is a wonderful comparison.
There are amazing "fruits' there,
if people only open their minds and see them...
Comment by Melissa Coolidge on February 4, 2009 at 11:35am
Beautiful. I'm not being purposely biblical, but this parallel is too good. I'm so glad you don't only see "giants" in Israel, but you see opportunity and good fruits as well.
Thank you, Yigal, for your "good report". It is a nice break from the evil and sad ones.


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