Guest Post by Shaun Bernstein, Do The Write Thing participant at 2010 New Orleans General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America

In April, I’ll be finishing up my journalism program in Toronto, Canada. In the past two years of J-School, I’ve learned how to at least try and see both sides of an issue by abandoning any opinion I ever had…on anything…ever. Suffice it to say, I still have a few of those left, and in an environment like Jewlicious I’m more than happy to share.

I’ve managed to leave the GA with less of an understanding of Zionism than I came with, and have misplaced any grasp I once had of the concept of aliyah. Why? I’m a journalist. That’s what brought me to the GA in the first place. This means I look at the world a little differently, and I ask the questions other people may not be asking. When I’m surrounded by answers, I start asking even more questions.

This is how I tend to feel when I’m surrounded by thousands of people proclaiming with fervent ovations that the answer is aliyah. It’s how I’ve felt when I’m in a room of 40 people who make the same claim, but at 4,000, you can pretty much do the math. In moments like these, I stop and do a quick mental head count. In an audience of thousands of people claiming that aliyah is at the pinnacle of Zionism, how many of these people are actually going to take the plunge, so to speak?

I imagine the Jewish Agency has the numbers, but I’d say under five per cent is being more than generous. So the real question then here is how is 95 per cent of an audience purporting that the answer to their troubles is a move they themselves will probably never make. How can so many people stand so passionately behind something that reality dictates just isn’t in the cards?

Now don’t get me wrong; Israel is a beautiful country, and if it’s where you feel you can live at 110 per cent then go for it. As for me, I’m staying put. There’s no question I’ll be back to Israel, and hope
to someday take my children and grandchildren. But I can assure you it’s for visits only. This isn’t about me though, it’s about the thousands of other Zionists who will always call ‘Columbus’ medineh’ as they say in Yiddish, home.

I don’t know the answer. The more that I think about it, I can’t really fathom how so many people can claim to stand behind something they know deep down is probably never going to happen. Wait a minute, this is starting to sound like a bit of a familiar theme here.

Anyone? Anyone? Beuller?

I don’t want to sound glib, but it’s hard to ignore that feeling that fighting for something that you know deep down isn’t going to work sounds like something we’ve seen before. Is there some sort of correlation here? Are the same people who are vowing to move to a land they won’t move to the ones championing a peace they might never see?

It’s a grim projection, but I worry it might not be that far fetched.

I don’t know the answer, I really don’t. I invite you to respond to this with your own thoughts, maybe even after you’ve had the 48 hours to ponder it that I had. Before when I’d hear people waxing poetic about aliyah, I’d shake my head and tune right out of the conversation. Now, after the GA, I’ve realized that my words aren’t of much use when they stay silent.

Shaun Bernstein is a 23 year old journalism student in Toronto. When he’s not asking questions online, he’s usually busy pestering people in person.

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