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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Student clubs host forum on Zionism

Published: October 12, 2012
Section: News

Students, professors and community members discussed the past, present and future of
Zionism in the modern world during a forum in the international lounge Thursday evening. The event was co-sponsored by four on-campus Jewish organizations—BIPAC, J Street U, bView and Hillel—and featured commentary by student leaders, experts and members of the audience.

The event was heavily attended, and began with leaders of the sponsoring organizations discussing the current state of Zionism. Chen Arad and Gil Zamir ’15, co-founders of Brandeis Visions for Israel in an Evolving World (bView), noted the lack of discussion about Zionism in today’s society. “We need to rediscover something the Zionist movement has lost—the ability to argue with each other,” Zamir said. He also noted that the meeting was not simply a discussion of Zionist history, but rather an opportunity to brainstorm as a group and define the future of Zionism, and to produce the “next brilliant movement” for Jews in Israel.

Viktoria Bedo ’15, president of J Street U, also discussed her life as a socially liberal Jew in Hungary. “My Zionist identity has always been tied up with my Jewish identity,” she said. Bedo reflected on her own struggles with nationalism in her home country. “On the streets of Budapest, nationalism meant anti-Semitism,” Bedo said. “Having a sense of being Hungarian was for skinheads.” While she recognized the need for a strong Jewish identity, Bedo also sympathized with minorities, such as Arab Jews affected by Zionism. “I can really empathize with being a minority in a country full of nationalism.”

The event proceeded with a passionate word from Ryan Yuffe ’15, president of BIPAC, who talked about early Zionist thinker Theodor Herzl, and problems that Zionism faces in a modern world. “Herzl’s Zionism is not ours,” Yuffe said. “Zionism started against the backdrop of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust. While our Israel is strong … our generation has been inundated with facts, speakers and propaganda … we have lost sight of the past, and have no real vision for the future.”

The second part of the night consisted of a panel discussion on the history of the Zionist movement by three local experts. Michael Zank, professor of Religous Studies at Boston University, and Rachel Fish, Associate Director of the Schusterman Center, discussed 20th century Zionist thinkers and their contributions to the movement. Professor Ilan Troen (NEJS) followed, speaking about David Ben-Gurion, the first Israeli Prime Minister. After the panel, audience members broke off into discussion groups led by the panelists and student leaders, and spoke of their own experiences with Zionism and Jewish identity.

Niri Halperin ’15 has spent her whole life around fellow Zionists, but admitted to not knowing much about the movement. “My entire family is in Israel, so I’ve been exposed to Zionism since birth,” Halperin said. “My mom’s family left Iraq due to the strong wave of anti-Semitism, while my dad left Ukraine right before the Holocaust.”

Halperin noted that she has sometimes struggled with justifying Israeli nationalism, but hopes to learn more about her Jewish identity. “We need to find a way to hold together a Jewish state, but preferably one that doesn’t exclude or alienate others. The Jewish people have been faced with so much violence and bloodshed, so hopefully we can strive for a peaceful solution while remembering our past and maintaining our identity.”