Zionism is Nationalism, Not Judaism

Gwen Macsai, Andy White and Rabbi Brant Rosen at Bookends and Beginnings, Evanston, IL, August 10. (photo: Liz Rose)

How Rabbi Rosen, and the author, shifted from insider to outsider.

By Liz Rose / Mondoweiss
August 17, 2017


I remember sitting in [Rabbi Rosen’s] office at [Jewish Reconstructionist Synagogue], feeling nauseous, scared that what I was learning about — indeed, that Israel is in fact Palestine and was taken from Palestinians — would cause me to question everything else about my life. So much of my identity had been formed around my love for Israel. I couldn’t talk to my family about this. I worried that students from the school where I taught Hebrew, and their parents, were in the building and could somehow hear our conversation, even though the door to his office was closed.


This summer, I’ve been going through crates of old albums in my parent’s basement. Some of the records have triggered more memories than others. A few remind me of college, like Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell. I remember making out with a guy in my dorm room, in 1988, to the song, “You Took the Words Right Out Of My Mouth (Hot Summer Night).” I also found Joan Armatrading’s Show Some Emotion, which I also remember playing after the Meat Loaf guy dumped me. Others, like Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits, remind me of the summers I spent at Habonim Dror, the Zionist summer camp modeled after a kibbutz that I attended in the 1980’s. Often we’d listen to “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” or “America,” or “The Boxer,” while cleaning bathrooms or making breakfast or building a bonfire.

I had forgotten about an obscure record that I found next to my Simon and Garfunkel albums, The Parvarim sing Simon and Garfunkel in Hebrew. The Parvarim were an Israeli duo, Yossi Hurie and Nisim Menachem. They started their career in the 1950’s, primarily singing Ladino ballads and Shabbat songs, but were most famous for their Simon and Garfunkel covers from the 1970’s. The music sounds remarkably like Simon and Garfunkel, only in Hebrew. The album was helpful to me when I was studying Hebrew, and, later, when I taught Hebrew at a public high school. I played the album the other day, and was startled by the memories it stirred in me of when I was a Zionist — mostly feelings of loss — particularly when I played “Sounds of Silence,” and “America.”

Later that evening, August 10, I attended Rabbi Brant Rosen’s book launch for the second edition of his 2012 book, Wrestling in the Daylight: A Rabbi’s Path to Palestinian Solidarity, released this year. Rosen used to be a Zionist, too, and we’ve often talked about the process we’ve both gone through to undo the Zionist upbringing we both had. Rosen, who was the Rabbi at the Jewish Reconstructionist Synagogue (JRC) in Evanston, Illinois, from 1998–2014, was one of the first Jews I approached when I began to question what I had learned and believed growing up about Zionism and Israel.

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