On MLK Day: Zionism and Tikun Israel

In 1963 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. shared his dream that “…this nation (US) 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.  70 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 have 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?  

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.

60 years have passed since Dr. King shared his dream, and over a century since Herzl shared his. Yet, the passage of time, and society’s antisemitic dis-ease 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 and begins with us.

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.

Fast forward to the inhumane attack that took place on Simchat Torah 5784, October 7, 2023, in Israel along the Gaza border, parallel to the extreme Jew hatred manifested around the world today, Herzl’s dream of our return to Zion is as relevant as ever. 75 years after the establishment of the modern-nation state, our work is far from over, our spiritual and physical return to Zion is incomplete.  

If there is anything I have learned throughout this past year of political and social turmoil, and the horrific attack of October 7th, it is not to take our existence in this world for granted, not to take the existence of Israel for granted. Israel’s existence, strength and inspiration informs our collective existence, strength, and inspiration. I hope this wave of collective awakening leap frogs us into a movement of preaching, teaching, and role modeling selfless love. If Israel’s weakness in past destructions came because of sinat chinnam, baseless ego driven hatred, then Israel’s strength and unity comes in the form of ahavat chinnam, selfless driven acts of love, kindness and arevut, accountability for one another. This is the great tikun of our time, the Jewish People’s modern-day revelation: Tikun Yisrael precedes Tikun Olam, healing Israel precedes healing the world. After all, how can we heal anyone if we ourselves are broken?

As we stand on the intersection of history, I choose to be an active participant, not a bystander; Just as Dr. King and Herzl dreamt of better days ahead—I too dream. I dream that the road to the spiritual and physical reclamation of Zion leads through Tikun Israel, through healing Israel. I hope you do too.

Leor Sinai

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