In 1963 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. dreamt that “…this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: …that all men are created equal.” Dr. King’s dream extended beyond healing African-American suffering; his vision was meant to impact and heal society as a whole. In 1895 Theodor Herzl shared a similar vision for Jewish emancipation when he stated that “the world will be liberated by our freedom…” (Der Judenstaat, “The Jewish State”).
In both movements the calls for freedom and self-determination for a specific group has had the potential to extend beyond that particular group. But how can we realize that potential when racism still exists and the People of Israel remains beset by internal as well as external challenges?
Martin Luther King Day should not be marked simply as a memorial day. It is a day of action; a day that inspires us to imagine and realize the collective dream of a better tomorrow.
It has been nearly half a century since Dr. King shared his dream, and over a century since Herzl shared his. Yet, the passage of time has placed the greater potential of those dreams further from our grasp. Today, sharing in Dr. King and Herzl’s dreams means that we must move from merely longing for what might be in the future and rather focus on what can be in the present. Acting out Dr. King or Herzl’s dream is a continuous journey; a journey whose very purpose is in the present.
Paramount in both dreams is identifying the common denominator that unites a people. For the African-Americans in the 1960s, it was a common struggle against hundreds of years of slavery, oppression, and inequality based on color. For the Jews in Herzl’s time, it was a struggle to put the Jewish collective back on track following 2,000 years of wandering and persecution, through geo-political self-determination. However, for the Jewish People of today, who cannot recall what life was like before the establishment of the state of Israel, the dream as described by Herzl may seem irrelevant. After all, the pogroms of Europe and Czarist Russia and the Shoah are distant in our collective memory. Today we must face the challenges presented by the disintegration of Jewish Peoplehood, the movement to delegitimize Israel, and the hijacking of Zionism.
Today’s Zionism is better served by engaging in a “Tikkun Yisrael”. It is an old concept, really. Moses engaged in “Tikkun Yisrael” when he convinced the Israelites to leave Egypt for a return to the Promised Land, and Herzl engaged in “Tikkun Yisrael” when he convinced the world that the answer to the Jewish question was a return to Zion. Today, we must continue to push for a return to Zion, a “state” of self-determination in the face external and internal challenges.
As supporters of the Civil Rights Movement stand proud in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King and continue to live out his dream, The Zionist Movement continues to serve as a platform where honest and passionate debate leads to inspiring ideas and effective action on how to confront the challenges facing the Jewish People today. Through “Tikkun Yisrael” we can once again realize the journey that is the dream, and impact the world for good by returning to Zion.
We stand atop the shoulders of these visionaries to become inspired by the potential of the journey ahead, a journey that started at Exodus, inspired Dr. King to lead his people to the “Promised Land”, and moved Herzl to declare the founding of the Jewish State fifty years prior to its establishment. This is a journey that will continue to realize its potential so long as we continue to engage in “Tikkun Yisrael”. For the sake of Zion we must continue to will it and Zion will never be subject to dreams again.
Rabbi Leor Sinai is Vice President for Young Leadership Initiatives at the American Zionist Movement