By Avi Stone
Having not attended either of the Veidot (if that’s the plural) last year, I was quite taken a back when I heard the theme of the year. Perhaps my initial discomfort was due to the seemingly privileged decision of a fairly white middle-classed group to appropriate a tool of marginalised groups to re-appropriate oppressive language. Or perhaps my reaction to the theme of the year is exactly why the theme was necessary, as legitimately or not, Zionism has negative connotations. Finally I concluded to myself that perhaps the wording of the theme of the year was purposefully provocative, intended to cause debate by reflecting upon the imagery and symbolism of Zionism in society whilst simultaneously undertaking a self-examination of the changing privilege of particularly British Jewry over the last century.
But alas, as early planning began for Kadimah this summer it became apparent that in fact no discussion of the power of ‘reclaiming’ had been discussed at length over Veidah. The wording was picked without any real acknowledgment of the political and linguistic power behind reclamation. As such, as a rashim team we spent many hours trying to decide how best to approach the subject, how to make it relevant for camp.
The result was that this summer the chanachimot undertook a thematic journey through the subject, addressing the roots of Zionism; the historic and modern conflict surrounding Israel, and modern anti-Semitism, before also exploring the use of reclamation by oppressed groups. Finally we attempted to tie the subjects together by asking whether it is appropriate to ‘reclaim Zionism’. As such we essentially adjusted the theme of the year by turning the statement to a question.
There were definitely some clear strengths to this theme of the year, firstly, it allowed LJY to explore its (small-p) political identity – any ‘Liberal’ group is inherently political, its why we celebrate gender equality and gay marriage. As such the theme allowed for some self-reflection upon our Reform Zionism, not simply learning about how we are Reform Zionists, but questioning if and why we are Reform Zionists, a crucial process of critical reflection vital for any group to consider themselves ‘progressive’.
In doing so, the theme of the year also inadvertently presented additional interesting questions. Firstly, are we trying to reclaim all of Zionism? Surely the WHOLE of Zionism isn’t ours to reclaim, representing only one branch of the wider political movement. As such, are we trying to refashion Zionism in our own image, appropriating Zionism from a larger majority of Zionists with whom we strongly disagree on many important issues? Are we instead attempting to rediscover what it means to be Reform Zionists rather than simply Zionists, finding meaning in a term that is lost in wider society? Therefore, the open ended question through its vagueness perhaps invites further opportunity to rediscover our own political identity.
Personally, the theme of the year most crucially demonstrates a challenge facing LJY if it wishes to continue to consider itself ‘progressive’ not just by Jewish but societal standards. Last Veidah, when the theme of the year was picked, little discussion of the aforementioned power of ‘reclamation’ was discussed. It could be argued that this is not overly important as Jews are an oppressed group, and as such reclamation is just as valid for us to use as any other marginalised group. However, this fails to acknowledge the largely white, middle class make-up of LJY, where we hold a privileged responsibility to educate ourselves and ensure that we provide an intersectional form of Judaism to our members. As such, the lack of awareness surrounding the political connotations of reclamation could be a sign that rather than simply celebrating our progressiveness, LJY needs to consistently critique and challenge itself to ensure that it is all that it celebrates itself as.