In 1963 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. shared his dream 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 included “…all men…” society as a whole. Seventy years earlier, in 1895, Theodor Herzl shared his 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 the potential to extend beyond that particular group. The power of healing ourselves can extend to healing others. But how can we help ensure that dreams for a better world are realized when injustice continues in our world? When our own leadership fails to protect innocent women, men, and children in Syria, Iran and other war-torn oppressive countries for the sake of self-interests? When instead of feeding the poor, we feed the coffers of dictators and radicals who continue to spew words of hate and death – all in the name of “keeping the quiet”.
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 visions 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.
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 (Holocaust) are distant in our collective memory. Today we must face the challenges presented by the disintegration of the social fabric of Jewish Peoplehood, in Israel and around the world.
When citizens of the world remember Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his march for equality, I am inspired. I am inspired to reclaim my Zionism from those who have hijacked my identity, from those who attempt to isolate my Zionism from my Judaism.
What is my Zionism? My Zionism is served by “Tikun Olam”, healing the world – BUT before I go ahead and heal the world, I engage in “Tikun Israel”, a healing of Israel: Israel the geo-political nation state, Israel the spiritual struggle and wrestling with God and self, and Israel the People (Jewish Peoplehood).
It is an old concept, really. This week’s Torah portion reflects Moses’ engagement in this Tikun as he works hard to get the Israelites out of Egypt, out of the slave mindset and into the Exodus narrative; as did Herzl when he engaged in “Tikun Israel” by convincing the world and the Jewish People that the answer to the Jewish question was a return to Zion.
Sixty-five years after the establishment of the modern-nation state, our work is far from over, our return to Zion is incomplete.As supporters of the Civil Rights Movement stand proud in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, continuing to realize his dream for justice and equality, Zion has arrived at a fork in the road. Will Jews worldwide remember from where they came? Or will they forget and by doing not know to where they are going? Will the government of Israel serve the purpose of Zion and the Jewish State by welcoming all Jews despite their religious affiliation, or will political machinations trump Am Yisrael, Jewish Peoplehood? And finally if we do not heal ourselves, how can we ever truly heal others?
Today we stand atop the shoulders of past 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 individuals recognize the need to engage in healing.
When Israeli citizens go to the polls tomorrow for elections, the international community and Jews worldwide wait to see the make-up of the next government of Israel. For the sake of Zion and making this world a better place – I think of Dr. King and Herzl, and I too dream. I dream that the road to Tikun Olam leads through Tikun Israel, hopefully you do too.