The Making of a Zionist

I recently attended the screening of a movie which highlighted an interview in English with David BenGurion.  Interwoven with the interview are video clips and narration about BenGurion’s life.  It runs like a Tuesdays with Morrie for the quintessential Israeli leader.  One of the interesting assertions that BenGurion makes is that he was never a Zionist until he moved to the Negev kibbutz of Sde Boker after retiring from public life in 1963.  The man who declared the Independence of the Jewish State and masterminded the Independence War; the man who led the fledgling nation through the early years and settled Jewish immigrants.  This man claims that none of those activities were an expression of his Zionism.ben gurion sde boker

We need to ask two main questions:

  1. How does BenGurion define Zionism?
  2. What about the Negev brings out the Zionism in him?

Zionism, according to BenGurion, is the re-creation of the Jews in their land.  Re-creation implies that there was a destruction or loss.  Indeed, the Jewish people were created and had an independent state 2000 years ago; that state was lost and destroyed by the Romans; now the Jewish political entity is being re-created.

We know how important the Negev is in BenGurion’s vision of the success of the Jewish State.

“It is in the Negev that the people of Israel will be tested – For only with a united effort of a volunteering people and a planning and implementing State will we accomplish the great mission of populating the wilderness and bringing it to flourish.  This effort will determine the fate of the State of Israel and the standing of our people in the history of mankind.”

This describes Ben Gurion’s theory of Zionism for the Jewish people as a collective, but not for one individual – David BenGurion.

How does moving to the Negev  re-create David BenGurion?  When BenGurion was a young man, he moved to the land of Israel. Here he holed up in Sejera with the likes of Alex Zaid. He learned farming, although not so successfully, and worked the land. This had been his childhood dream – BenGurion created himself.

During his years in public service, he lost that direct connection with the land. It was a loss for a greater good – the Jewish people needed a leader. Only after he leaves public life can he re-create himself and return to his personal connection to the land. Where does this transformation happen? Naturally in the Negev. 

“It is in the Negev that the youth will be tested – its pioneer strength, vigor of spirit, and creative and conquering initiative.  Will it take advantage of the greatest, and most precious and rarest opportunity in the history of the entire nation – to create anew and to be fully immersed in creative enterprises, which necessitate infusion of the special and most wondrous properties locked and hidden in the recesses of the soul of each human being, the properties of creative valor which gain control of nature’s strongholds, and fashion the destiny of a people and its country.”

BenGurion re-creates himself, returning to the ideals of working the land which he espoused as a youth.

Many groups I take to the Negev desert experience the renewal which comes from being alone in the desert. Especially there you can strip off the trappings and become as bare as the surroundings. You can connect with your core, the driving ideals which steered you when you were young, and re-create yourself.

There, you can be a true Zionist, BenGurion style.

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