What does the word “Zionism” mean? Merriam-Webster defines it as “political support for the creation and development of a Jewish homeland in Israel.” Yet in the 126 years since the term was coined by Austrian writer Nathan Birnbaum, is has developed many more meanings, depending on who is using it, and when and where they live.
Israeli Jews define it differently from Jews in the diaspora. Many young American Jews have a different understanding of the term than their grandparents. And among anti-Israel activists, it is often used as a slur.
On Sept. 18, the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto is hosting a daylong conference to examine the many current interpretations of Zionism and seek strands of a shared vision between American Jews and Israelis.
“Zionism 3.0: In Search of the Shared Dream” will feature experts including Israeli author and journalist Yossi Klein Halevi, a fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, and U.S. diplomat Dennis Ross, who has served five presidents.
“You’ll hear from a number of our speakers that they have very different definitions of what it means to be a Zionist,” said JCC chief executive Zack Bodner. “I think that, unfortunately, Zionism has become a dirty word in some parts of the world today, and we want to reclaim it.”
Bodner said there have been three distinct eras for Zionism. The first, Zionism 1.0, stretched from the 1890s to 1948 when the State of Israel was created, he said, while Zionism 2.0 extended from 1948 to the beginning of the 21st century.
“The reason why we’re calling it Zionism 3.0 is we believe we’re at a moment where there needs to be discussion about what Zionism is nowadays,” Bodner said in a phone interview. “Now we’re living in this era where, for the first time in history, there is both a strong Jewish homeland and a strong Jewish diaspora. So perhaps we need a new paradigm.”
Other speakers will include Israeli Arab news anchor Lucy Aharish; Palestinian affairs journalist Avi Issacharoff; Aryeh Green, a former adviser to human rights activist Natan Sharansky; and former Israeli Knesset member Einat Wilf.
The conference will feature roundtable discussions and panels, such as “Progressive American Judaism and Entrenched Israeli Orthodoxy: Is There a Common Ground?” moderated by J. editor Sue Fishkoff.
The OFJCC held a similar conference last November that was co-organized by the Israeli daily Haaretz and attended by more than 700 people. This second iteration is being organized by the JCC itself, with the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation as a partner and the Times of Israel as media sponsor. Additional sponsors range from AIPAC to J Street, and include J.
The OFJCC said in a news release that it envisions the conference “as a launching pad for a year-long dialogue that will bring our community together around difficult but critical topics and questions about the two major centers of Jewish life.”
Bodner said he is encouraged to see a lot of young adults have signed up for the conference.
“Part of the reason why the conversation is so important today is because young people are struggling with what their relationship with Israel should be like,” he said. “We want to be able to have young people explore that. Older generations know they can be Zionists, lovers of Israel, without agreeing with all the decisions made by Israel.”
“Zionism 3.0: In Search of the Shared Dream,” 11:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Sept. 18 at OFJCC, 3921 Fabian Way, Palo Alto. $45-$80 until Sept. 15 ($120 at the door). paloaltojcc.org/zionism30