At my most Zionist

In our daughter’s 12th grade class yesterday, on the cusp between Memorial and Independence Days, her teacher asked something along the lines of “what was the most Zionist, nationalist moment, for you personally.” Merav was unsure how to answer. Many …

A Dry Bones aliyah cartoon from 1976 (more at

In our daughter’s 12th grade class yesterday, on the cusp between Memorial and Independence Days, her teacher asked something along the lines of “what was the most Zionist, nationalist moment, for you personally.” Merav was unsure how to answer. Many of her friends referred to their families’ aliyah.

“But I was just a baby then,” she said, and indeed she had been only a year old as she crawled her way through the oversized immigration processing hall, built to handle 2-3 planeloads of Russians all making aliyah at once, at the old Ben Gurion Airport.

I began to think how I would answer the question. Aliyah seems the logical response too – and we were old enough to appreciate what we’d done (as well as all the subsequent bureaucracy). But there are other answers I could give.

Getting my Israeli driver’s license and taking strange pride in my ability to successfully navigate Israeli traffic has definitely made me feel one with the nation.

Starting a company in 1998 and walking around the shell of our new investor-backed offices, I felt more than just an entrepreneur’s dream come true; I would soon be contributing to the Zionist enterprise by employing a staff of 15 fellow immigrants who might stay in the country due to the sweat and vision that had gone into the making of that day.

Another defining moment of Israeliness came from the tragic side. When our cousin Marla Bennett was killed in the terrorist attack on the Hebrew University cafeteria in 2002, we were thrust into the pan-Israeli world of mourners, and every year when Yom HaZicharon comes around, I feel just that much closer to my brethren.

But that’s not it either – because the terror war that killed Marla and 1,000 other Israelis in those horrible years made me just as inclined to consider fleeing to the “safety” of the old country than to stick it out here as a brave soldier in civilian clothes (obviously I didn’t flee as I’m writing here from Jerusalem).

When I started becoming non-religious at the beginning of 2000, after 25 years in the Orthodox world, I had to re-jigger my entire value system about why I was living in Israel. I found, to my delight, that it wasn’t the kosher food and the synagogue options that were keeping me here, but a deep Zionism and appreciation of the rhythm of life, the Jewish calendar, and the community that we’d built, religious or otherwise.

Travel abroad often makes the heart grow fonder, especially with the third world destinations we’ve been to recently – India, Egypt, Africa and now Nepal. Upon each of our returns, Israel seems so much saner, organized; even genteel. That feeling of coming home to our own country, warts and all, applauding when the plane touches down at the airport, always fills me with a quiet nationalistic fervor.

But by far my most Zionist moments have been our family hikes throughout Israel. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to any regular readers of Israelity: I’ve chronicled all 12 tiyulim we did over the course of our youngest son’s bar mitzvah year.

To walk the land is, in many ways, to make it your “own,” with clear Biblical roots, going all the way back to Joshua and the Israelites (although they didn’t just walk). Modern day hiking bumps into numerous archaeological sites, which add visceral detail to the history of the Jewish people in the Holy Land.

And Israelis are inculcated with a love of hiking from a very young age. Beginning in first grade, all Israeli school children head out for their tiyul shnati – the “annual trip.” The youngest just go for the day, but by high school, overnight hikes can stretch up to a week.

So, when I want to feel most Israeli, most Zionist, most connected to this country; and to imagine I not only immigrated in my thirties, but grew up in this land, I hit the trails.

That’s my answer, and I’m sticking to it. How about you? This is a great opportunity to contribute to this discussion by leaving your comments. I’d be very happy to hear.

About Brian Blum

Brian has been a journalist and high-tech entrepreneur for over 20 years. He combines this expertise for ISRAEL21c and Israelity as he writes about hot new local startups, pharmaceutical advances, scientific discoveries, culture, the arts and daily life in Israel. He loves hiking the country with his family (and blogging about it). Originally from California, he lives in Jerusalem with his wife and three children.
  • Steven Greenberg

    As with Brian, there could be several moments that come close to being the most Zionist experience here … and having just returned from our 3rd Annual Orienting Challenge in the Rosh Ha’Ayin Forest, I certainly relate to walking the land.

    But there was one experience for me that was special because it was happening here. Something that even tops the birth of my daughter here because even though we were bringing a new Israeli into the world and registering her with the Ministry of the Interior any Zionist feelings then were way overwhelmed by the birth itself which was totally wonderful.

    Her very first day in 1st grade … they had a brief welcoming ceremony for the 1st graders in an area all decked out with Israeli flags … the idea of my daughter entering into the Israeli school system was something purely, uniquely Israeli … and when they sang Hatikva, I cried like a baby.

  • Ruth Mason

    Nice, Brian. I, too, love hiking this beautiful land.
    I had a “Zionist” moment last night at the alternative torch lighting ceremony in front of the Prime Minister’s office. The focus was on all the injustices here, on the inequality, on the home demolitions at El Arakib, Sheikh Jarakch, Ramle; on prison time served; etc. BUT – these were mostly young Israeli Jews and Arabs fighting for justice, fighting for equality and doing it HERE. They weren’t giving up on this place. I felt proud to be an Israeli.