April 26, 2007
Yom Ha’Atzmaut 2007: What Israel means to me
Web Extra: Judea Pearl on Charlie Rose
(Page 3 - Previous Page)Of course not!
It is unthinkable that Israel, one of the most secular societies in the world, would aspire to religious exclusiveness. The confusion arises from the coarseness of language and the failure of the word "Jewish" to distinguish the various aspects the Jewish identity. One might more aptly say that Israel does not seek to be a "religious Jewish state" but, rather, a "national Jewish state" with a "national Jew" being an individual who, by choice, identifies with the collective history and destiny of a group of individuals who call themselves "Jews" (see "I Am Jewish," 2004).
In contrast to the religious interpretation of a "Jewish state," the status of Israel as a "national Jewish state" is perfectly compatible with modern standards, no different, for example, from the status of Spain as a national Spanish state, where holidays and textbooks commemorate milestones of Spanish, not Portuguese, history, and where streets are named after Spanish, not French, writers.
Indeed, when early Zionists talked about Judenstaat, they had in mind a state for "national Jews" not "religious Jews." It is highly important to recall that Theodore Herzl was a secular Jew, as were the majority of the delegates to the Zionist congresses. Moreover, so are the majority of Israelis today who define their Jewishness as a national affiliation -- a commitment to shared history and shared destiny -- not as a matter of religious faith.
Yes, Israel is a land of paradoxes, redefinitions or, more precisely, a land of dynamic contrasts.
My home town of Bnai-Brak, now a bustling replica of an extremely Orthodox, Eastern European shtetl, is situated amongst totally secular neighborhoods, in which May 1st International Workers Day is celebrated with school ceremonies and marching bands. At the same time, it is not uncommon to find youth groups in Marxist-leaning kibbutzim engaging in a nightlong trance of Chassidic melodies.
This marvelous blending of an intense clinging to the past with an innovative, indeed revolutionary and optimistic outlook to the future, is the essence of what Israel means to me.
The optimists among us say that the world will never abandon Israel, because civilization cannot afford to dispose of such an innovative project, one where the noblest aspirations of mankind have been brought together to develop and cross-pollinate side be side. Pessimists tell us that the fate of Israel is the fate of civilization itself, and the latter does not look very promising.
As a proud descendant of a stubborn tribe of survivors, I take the optimistic side. True, the world may not fully appreciate the importance of noble projects, and may appear to belittle the miracle of creating a vibrant democracy and a center of arts and science from the few mud-walled huts that my grandfather found 80 years ago. But I am nevertheless convinced that, deep below all the criticism and the rhetoric, it is the heroic example of Israel's struggle and progress that currently fuels the will of civilization to survive.
Judea Pearl is a professor of computer science at UCLA and president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation, named after his son. He is co-editor of "I Am Jewish: Personal Reflections Inspired by the Last Words of Daniel Pearl" (Jewish Lights, 2004), winner of the National Jewish Book Award. :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::
Judea Pearl on Charlie Rose May 3, 2007 ::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::
Click here for a video of a speech Judea Pearl gave in South Beach two weeks ago. Courtesy PBS WPBT2