By Stephen Kraig
This weekend I had the interesting opportunity to attend the North American Tagar conference shabbaton in Columbus, Ohio. It was an experience which, for the most part, I greatly enjoyed. One question repeatedly came up involving my own beliefs (both from other people, and from introspection) during the gathering; How can I be both a Zionist1 and an Atheist?. When this question came up I gave what answers that I could, but the more I think about the issue, the more I feel compelled to compose a fuller (and perhaps more lucid) reply, which is my intention in writing this essay.
Perhaps I should start by explaining why I am an Atheist. The answer is quite simple; I do not hold (nor have I ever to the best of my ability to remember) a faith in the existence of G-d2 (more generally, a disbelief in a self-awareness of the universe on a cosmological scale). This is a serious belief of mine (or, if you prefer, lack there-of) which reflects my current heart-felt views on the subject, reached after many years of careful introspection. This is not at all to say that I lack respect for religion in general, and certainly I do not lack respect for Judaism. During the weekend I observed all the traditions that were expected of me, and attended the services that were held as part of the program (although in silence, as I feel to do otherwise would have been patronizing, not respectful as was my intention...I welcome comments on how to handle such situations). It is true that I do not follow these traditions normally. They rest on a foundation of faith that I lack, and therefore I feel it would be dangerously near hypocrisy to do so. This does not change the fact that the Jewish culture and traditions have strongly influenced me, and nothing can change the facts of my predominantly Jewish heritage.
This brings us to the question of Zionism, which I take to mean generally the active support for the preservation of Jewish traditions and culture, and more specifically the belief that the best way to ensure that preservation is in maintaining the existence of a national home for Jewish culture on the lands that are it's traditional home, Israel. It is obviously not incongruous to hold these beliefs simultaneously with my atheism. It is obvious that Jewish culture and traditions cannot maintain their full integrity without Israel. It is also quite clear the nation of Israel is under grave threat from the nations that surround it. How can I not feel a responsibility to the culture of my ancestors when I would be an advocate for any culture which was so threatened, even if I had no connection with it. I do not currently intend to make aliyah. I do intend to see to it that my children, or my children's children, can if they choose to.
If people feel they must further question me and my motives then they should feel free to do so, I will answer as best I can. If my fellow members of Tagar come to the conclusion that they do not need or want the help of people such as myself I can accept their decision and will then be forced to create a group of my own. If they feel that I am not as dedicated to the cause as they, they are perhaps correct, and perhaps they are not...in any event this is purely subjective and it is actions that matter.
1 I am aware of the controversy surrounding the use of the word Zionism, I use it here primarily as a convenience to writing.
2 Letter omitted out of respect for the beliefs of my intended readers.
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