Why a "Non-Zionist" Congregation?


In Tzedek Chicago's description of our core value, "Judaism Beyond Nationalism, we state:

While we appreciate the important role of the land of Israel in Jewish tradition, liturgy and identity, we do not celebrate the fusing of Judaism with political nationalism. We are non-Zionist, openly acknowledging that the creation of an ethnic Jewish nation state in historic Palestine resulted in an injustice against its indigenous people – an injustice that continues to this day. 

When we originally developed our core values, we decided that it was important to name the term "non-Zionist" out loud. After all, virtually every liberal synagogue in North American is Zionist by default. Many of them engage in political advocacy for the state of Israel, place Israeli flags in their sanctuaries and actively attempt to foster a "connection" to the state in their religious school students.

But what about the significant and growing numbers in the Jewish community that do not consider themselves to be Zionist - who do not adhere to Jewish political nation-statism? Quite simply, there is no congregation for them.

Those of us who founded Tzedek Chicago did so in small part because we believe there are many who seek congregations that refuse draw red lines over the issue of Zionism, or at best to simply “tolerate” non or anti-Zionists in their ranks as long as they stay quiet. Who seek congregations that openly state they don’t celebrate a Jewish nation built on the backs of another people. That call out – as Jews – a state system that privileges Jews over non-Jews.

Shortly after we founded our congregation, the Canadian Jewish journalist Mira Sucharov wrote an op-ed in the Jewish Forward entitled "My Problem with the Idea of a Non-Zionist Synagogue." Sucharov argued, among other things, that non or anti-Zionists should reengage with liberal synagogues, not isolate themselves from them:

I wonder how many of these so-called “non-Zionists” are avoiding Jewish communal spaces because they think their admission of “attachment” to a place whose injustices pain them will be interpreted as blind support. I wonder how many are hiving off into like-minded, “non-Zionist” spaces rather than push for the kinds of tough conversations we should be having with those who disagree. We need to reinvigorate pointed debate about Israel — and Zionism — across the Jewish communal divide. Justice might just depend on it.

In response, Tzedek's rabbinical intern Jay Stanton made an eloquent case for the creation of alternative spaces in the contemporary Jewish world:

We are not “hiving off” from these congregations; we have been rejected by them. We are not “avoiding Jewish communal spaces” — we created one. We create non-Zionist safe space because most other Jewish congregations in America are Zionist. To fully participate in them, we must park our convictions at the door. Tzedek exists because we don’t wish to pray for the success of Israel’s military endeavors. Because we don’t wish to sit through so-called “open” discussions of the Israel-Palestine conflict brought to us by AIPAC or J Street. Because we don’t wish to donate directly or indirectly to the IDF. 

On a subsequent Treyf podcast, Rabbi Rosen addressed this argument as well:

If people want to come over to where we are, that's great. But I'm not going to spend a lot of time trying to convince them to do it, trying to persuade them from the path that they are on. I just want to create a spiritual home for...people who share (these) values, to be out and proud about it, and if and when people want to come over and join us, they are absolutely welcome to do it. 

The enthusiastic response to Tzedek Chicago convinces us that there are many in the Jewish world who seek precisely this kind of alternative Jewish space - one that refuses to fuse their Judaism to an oppressive nation state and instead seeks to celebrate a venerable Diasporic tradition that finds God wherever in the world Jews might happen to live.