I grew up in an anti-zionist Hasidic community in NYC. I studied in an anti-Zionist cheder (boys school) and yeshiva until I got married at the age of 20. Fast forward to today, I still live and raise my family in a predominantly anti-Zionist Hasidic community. Like in all other Jewish communities, our community has many positive aspects to it. Unfortunately, most people don’t know about the good that exists as the media generally reports on the negative. I love the people in my community like I love every other Jew, from the most secular to the most frum. We are all children of Hashem. Each and every one of us is a powerhouse, full of light to shine up the whole universe.
I departed from my community’s understanding of Jewish history and the Geulah (redemption) while staying Hasidic. I share this story today, so that others out there, who may have a different approach than what they were taught, can know that you can still be a good Hasid, even if you identify with the Zionist State.
In school, we were always presented with a very negative outlook on Zionist movement and all its accomplishments. Even the positive aspects that came out of Zionism were considered none other than a challenge by the evil Satan to confuse and lead us away from Hashem. Zionism was the worst curse that the world ever knew. In addition, the facts about the development of Zionist movement and the State that filtered down to us through the local newspapers were neither the full story nor presented from both sides of the coin. This created a one-sided narrative, leaving room for only one conclusion: the Zionists are evil and they must go. Because of Zionism, the Holocaust took place and because of it, we remain in Galus (exile) until this day. The idea put forward was that only through the eventual dismemberment of the State of Israel could we expect Moshiach to bring the Geulah.
I can’t recall the specific timeframe, but a change in my perspective happened slowly over the years as I got exposed to other Yidden. I started realizing that my community is not the only good Jews out there. There are other fine Jews in the world as well, and they may have different opinions while still serving Hashem in a healthy and authentic way. I also started learning Tanach on a more serious level, in addition to many other classical seforim. Having a strong thirst for knowledge and facts, I started frequenting the local public library to borrow English language books that opened up more doors for me. Then the internet came along. I started googling, reading blogs and other web articles, as well as listen to Shiurim I downloaded for free to fill up my iPod. All of these opened up new vistas and horizons that I did not know existed only a few years before.
Slowly and steadily, the anti-Zionist theology started making less and less sense to me. Many Pesukim (verses) in Tanach seemed to contradict the former approach as did many pieces of Chazal and Jewish history itself. I started studying Seforim written by other Gedolim and Tzadikim who disagreed with the anti-Zionist approach. I came to find out that were many serious Tzadikim who were either heavily involved in the Zionist movement or supported it in many ways, including many Chasidishe Rebbes! We either never learned about them or did not appreciate their greatness. Plus, I came to know of many historical aspects of the State, which I had not known before, such as the San Rameo Conference. Over time, my soul started drifting away from my formal education into the direction of the Pro-Zionist view with which I now I identify. This is a more wholesome view of Judaism and brings more peace to the roots of my soul.
I am not aware of any official movement of Hasidi-Leumi (Nationalistic-Hasidim, which is how I would define religious Hasidic Zionists), however there are a growing number of Hasidim (including many of my friends) who were raised in either strong or semi Anti-Zionist environments. When they were all exposed to the reality of Modern Israel, they also struggled to connect with the anti-Zionist philosophy with which they were raised. There are hundreds, if not thousands, who are open and ready to embrace the Jewish State and would love to make it their homeland. They wish to get actively involved in bringing it closer to redemption, or at the very least, make it their favorite vacation destination.
Hasidim, like everybody else, are now on social media connecting with other Jews and the world at large and being exposed to new ideas in a positive way. Many young individuals don’t know how to come to terms with the anti-Zionistic ideas of their upbringing in a practical way. For many, after they visit Israel, they simply fall in love with everything our land has to offer. It’s still, however, taboo for a typical Haredi Hasid to hang an Israeli flag outside their home, and the majority don’t want to create any family strife by acting out on the ideas they developed. This is why I believe that there is no visible movement going on. Outwardly, you would never know when a person changes or becomes a lover of Zion in their heart. One can still look and act the same. A change in belief does not always constitute a change an in presentation or perception. So the newly Hasidic Zionists are out there, but you just won’t recognize them.
In a deeper sense, Zionism is really a continuation of the light the Baal Shem Tov has brought down into the world. One who studies his path with an open mind will be amazed to realize how much the State has actualized his teachings in real life. Eretz Yisrael has brought Am Yisrael together like never before, with the amount of Torah and spirituality going on there. It’s all part of the Geulah process. The playing field is ready for new spiritual leaders with a Hasidi-Leumi approach to bring fire and love for Eretz Yisrael into the open. 70 plus years is enough for anyone to wake up and start living the dream.
At this point in my journey, I’ve regained my natural deep yearning and love for Eretz Yisrael. This is a desire that every Torah Jew should be connected to. I think about it 24/7 and I dream of the day I’ll be fortunate enough to make Aliyah with my family with pride and joy, much like the Baal Shem Tov and many other great Tzadikim dreamed of. I take immense pleasure in knowing that I am part of a generation that has merited to see the Geulah process with its very own eyes. Through this lens, I view all the regular events in my personal life, in the life of our nation and the world at large, knowing that Hashem is behind all that is happening in Israel. I have tremendous Chizuk and pride in our nation for what we have accomplished in the last 200 years. This is the fulfillment of many prophecies which were foretold by our prophets over 2500 years ago.
I try my best to give over this legacy to my kids and to get them emotionally excited about the holy land and about the Geulah process. Although it is sometimes painful, it is still a fountain of joy, for which we should thank Hashem in song and jubilation on a regular basis.
I also try to visit Eretz Yisrael on a constant basis, throughout the diverse communities from the South to the North. To walk in the footsteps of our forefathers in the cities mentioned in Tanach and to connect with all types of Yidden, with whom we have much in common, despite our many language and cultural barriers is priceless. To speak with and hold hands with our holy brothers who give their lives for the land in so many ways and be inspired in the deepest of ways is crucial. Israel is now my primary home. New York is only a temporary dwelling place where I sleep and live for the time being. The majority of my people live in the land of our forefathers, and the majority of our future history is happening there as well. May we all merit, as we daven, to see with our very own eyes the return of the divine presence on mount Zion, with the rebuilding of the Bais Hamikdash and the return of the Kingdom of David speedily in our days.