(It’s just come to my attention that clearly, this post is in honor of Tu B’Av, every Jew’s favorite hookup holiday. In that spirit, I’m going to a party with 800 Jews. Wish me luck!)

If you look at our most commented posts on Jewlicious, you’ll see two themes emerge: Zionism and sex. Look, we’re young, and pro-Israel, and live in a world where we’re bombarded with sexual messages. Sometimes we become a little centered on hooking up with other Jews. It happens.

Now, finally, according to the Forward, there’s a new type of Zionism in town, and this time, it’s sexual. [Audio FX: Cue Barry White music for remainder of article reading.]

[Sexual Zionism], rooted in the belief that love leads to aliya, has been floating around for a few years now on the Jewish singles scene. But the term itself is nebulous, and not even the youth travel representatives who spin it can pin down its exact genesis. “Somewhere along the line, major Israel providers figured this was a good way to appeal to the youth market,” said Alex Sharone, the 24-year-old national director of Habonim Dror, a progressive Zionist youth movement sponsoring a wide array of summer and year-round programs. Habonim Dror doesn’t overtly promote Sexual Zionism through its itineraries, but given the target demographic the message is all but inescapable. “It’s about sexualizing a love for Israel,” Sharone continued. “You’re 15, going through puberty and visiting Israel for the first time. While you’re learning the history and culture of the land, you’re simultaneously scoping out potential mates. It’s about forging a positive association with Israel, and for teens and young adults that often means sex.”

First of all, I was seventeen, it was my second time in Israel (the first time was with my family), and never did I consider my connection to the land sexual. (Although maybe I should have…and there was something in the air over there…)

Rabbi Mitchell Cohen, director of the National Ramah Commission, which oversees Conservative Jewish travel and study opportunities in Israel, is pretty skeptical about puppy love’s lasting impact on a person’s long-term commitment to Israel. “Our mission is to focus on friendship,” he said. “Friendship is what fosters a strong relationship to Israel. That is what keeps the spirit of our people alive.”

Friendship keeps the spirit alive. That was certainly my experience when I went to Israel with Ramah. But unless I missed a few health classes in high school, while friendship may reinforce the Jewish nation, platonic relationships don’t propagate the people.

Momo [Shlomo “Momo” Lifschitz, the hard-charging president of Oranim Educational Initiatives], who describes himself as an “old-fashioned Zionist,” said that to mistake his encouragement of the propagation of the Jewish people, culture and community for satiating carnal cravings is to miss the point entirely. “I love sex,” he said in his characteristically blunt fashion. “I love Zionism. Are the two combined with [each other]? Not necessarily. You can easily form a love of Israel without falling in love with a particular person.” In response to the concept of Sexual Zionism, Momo offers his own phrase: Emotional Zionism.

“You have to bring Zionism through emotions,” he pleaded, advocating Zionism not as a politicized JDate but as a poignant, powerful, impassioned call for scattered Jews everywhere to explore and discover their souls’ true landing strip. He’s delighted to hear the story of Oranim alumna Jessi, an infectiously vibrant 21-year-old bohemian type from Jersey who came to Israel seeking spiritual guidance following the tragic death of a friend. Bowled over by all the beautiful sites featured in Birthright’s neck-whipping itinerary, she found a sense of inner peace. “I’m moving here,” she proclaimed. “Israel is the greatest place on Earth.”

My brother felt the same way. He moved to Israel, found a wonderful woman, got married, and moved back to the States to go to school and so that their kids could be closer to both sets of parents. (It’s not that they won’t go back, but it’s not in the immediate plan. Which you kind of have to understand.)

“Zionism opens up a mountain of emotions,” Momo explained. “Emotion is what makes someone feel at home when they come to Israel. Sex might sell, sure. It might land the girl. But an open heart is what is going to make that relationship, and one to Israel, last forever.”

“Soul’s landing strip”…”an open heart makes a relationship with Israel last forever.” These poignant phrases point to a resonant truth that for some people constitutes a draw, and for others a deterrent: in order to move to Israel, you have to be willing to leave what you know behind–everything from career to family. Not that those things cannot exist in Israel (and there are few among us who could not find a relative or thirty already in Israel and willing to serve in loco parentis), but to an extent, each oleh is a pioneer-as-of-old, draining metaphorical swamps to prevent professional or personal malaria, building a home from scratch in earth that can be hostile and less-than-arable.

I understand why young men and women in their twenties, fresh off a birthright trip, make the choice: apart from their parents, surrounded by peers, their eyes are open to a place that pulses with the modern and the ancient, a place where religion (and therefore emotion) reigns. They go because their hearts are open, not just to sexual or romantic opportunity, but to romance, idealism, and working for something you can call your own in a way that becomes more difficult as we age.

But in considering the possibility of emotional/sexual Zionism as a movement, one has to acknowledge the logic of the biological urge, at any age. Forgive the analogy, but like salmon that return to the waters whence they came to spawn, a pull toward the land of Jewish ancestry makes perfect sense. Once there, the desire to plant something–whether it’s a literal tree at a JNF ceremony, or investing in the economy (the purchase of an Israel bond, or the latest Harry Potter book in Hebrew), or deciding to put down roots for a future–is only natural.

Note to self:

Potential slogans to promote “sexual Zionism” movement
“Come on, baby. You know you want it.”
“Israel: We’ve been doing it since the Garden of Eden.”
“You’ve got your sexuality in my Zionism!” “No, you’ve got your Zionism in my sexuality…”
“Water your camels at our wells.”
“Here, the drinking age is 18.”

About the author

Esther Kustanowitz

For more posts by Esther, see EstherK.com, MyUrbanKvetch.com and JDatersAnonymous.com.

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