Daniel Gordis: A Dose of Nuance


When we talk about Israel, we could be talking about the questions that lie at the very core of our Jewish lives, whether we live in Israel or the Diaspora, whether we are observant or not, or some variation on the theme. Zionism, at its richest, is a conversation about what Jewishness in the 21st century ought to look like. Is any set of Jewish questions more important? And is there any anchor for that conversation more compelling than the state that has emerged – with all its many warts – from that conversation? In his brilliant collection of short stories, What We Talk about When We Talk about Anne Frank, Nathan Englander writes, “Shimmy did his best to make clear to his son that Israelis – in their nation of unfinished borders and unwritten constitution – were trapped in a gray space that was called real life.”

That – and not the interminable and depressing conflict – is what Zionism has always been about. Real life, real questions, real struggles with some of the imponderables that lie at the heart of Jewish life. When Jewish life meets sovereignty, Jewish life rejoins history.

And when Jewish life rejoins history, some of life’s most critical questions rise off the page of the Talmud and insert themselves into our lives with an urgency that we haven’t replicated anywhere else.

That’s much closer to what I should have said to my friends, I think. We have to resist the temptation to let the conflict obscure everything else about Israel.

In this season of looking back so we can do better in the year to come, isn’t it time to re-imagine what it is that we talk about when we talk about Israel?