Note: The following is a letter sent today to the Reform Movement by Rabbi Joshua Weinberg, Vice President of the Reform Zionist and Israel Committee for the Union of Reform Judaism and the President of the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA). It is worthy to be read and distributed widely.
“The Zionist movement had a central goal of creating a Jewish State. Yet, it also had a goal of instilling Jewish pride. Of creating the “New Jew”, or as Max Nordau referred to it, to create “Muskeljudentum” or “muscular Jewry.” This would be the antithesis of the old Diaspora Jewry, who was weak and defenseless, who couldn’t handle physical labor and were not masters of their own destiny. But Jewish pride wasn’t only about backbone and brawn. It was about getting past the self-deprecation, being the anti-nebech and being proud of our tradition, our heritage, and of what we were able to accomplish.
Many Jews the world round felt that sense of pride with the State of Israel – especially in its triumphant moments after the Six Day War, the raid on Entebbe, and every subsequent Nobel Prize or public achievement. When Maccabi Tel Aviv won its first European championship and American-born Israeli star proclaimed “anachnu al hamapa, ve’anahnu nisharim al hamapa!” a literal translation of an English phrase into his adopted language, but a novel saying in Hebrew, became a new, popular phrase in Israel meaning: “We are on the map! And we are staying on the map – not only in sports, but in everything.”
Having Jewish pride meant the ability to raise our flag high and be unabashed to waive it proudly. But Jews never really had a flag until the Zionist movement came around. Which is why it was so deeply troubling that the Washington DC Dyke March chose to ban this flag as well as any semblance of the Magen David at today’s march.
Friday’s march, according to its organizers, seeks to celebrate groups of people who organizers said typically are excluded from messaging around Pride, including those of various races, religions, socioeconomic classes and gender identities. I don’t level this accusation lightly, but despite being promulgated by two Jewish activists, this reeks of antisemitism. The ban is so full of irony and hypocrisy as Rabbi Rachel Timoner writes:
“…you can’t be against nationalism when it comes to the Jewish people and in favor of nationalism when it comes to the Palestinian people. In this line of thinking, DC Dyke March organizers say that they’ve banned the Jewish star on flags because it’s a nationalist symbol, but that they welcome the Palestinian flag. They say that they stand with the Palestinians because they are a displaced people. A cursory study of Jewish history would demonstrate that the Jewish people have been displaced over and over again, all around the world.”
So, where does the symbol actually come from?
According to scholar Gershom Scholem’s “Magen David – History of a Symbol“, which was released 27 years after the author’s death, the symbol was seen in biblical times as decoration, but the first book that referred to the symbol as “Magen David” was written by Maimonides’ grandson, Rabbi David Ben Yehuda HaHasid, in the 14th century, and as a mystical talisman in the early middle ages.
The official usage of the Star of David as a Jewish symbol began in Prague. Scholem writes that it was either chosen by the local Jewish community or by the Christian rule as a means of branding the Jews, who later adopted and embraced it. In 1354 Emperor Charles IV granted the Jews the privilege of raising a flag of their own, and this flag contained the Magen David. (One of these flags can still be found in Prague’s famous Altneushul).
During the first Zionist Congress in Basel in 1897 the Zionist flag, which bears a blue Star of David, was chosen. But Prof. Scholem claims that the symbol only became truly meaningful during the Holocaust, after the Nazis used it to mark the Jews, and thus sanctified it. According to Scholem, this gave the graphic symbol a spiritual sense of sacredness it never had before.
Of course, not every Jew feels that sense of pride. For some, that symbol may stand for occupation and oppression. It is our job and to change that. Not through spin-doctoring or propagandizing, but through the real work of making our society better and righting the wrongs that have occurred. To make our flag stand for our values of Jewish peoplehood, and a Jewish Nation-State and just society. And a flag of justice, equality and peace.
The Dyke March and Pride marches the world around are incredibly important for LGBTQ rights and recognition. For the simple and basic human notion that a person should be able to be who they are, to be open, and free. We need more marches. We need them in places where those rights – after all these years of struggle – are still not a given.
We, as Jews, need to be there. To say that we’re proud to be Jews of many identities and orientations. And we need to fly our flag.
As Reform Jews, I’m proud that our Movement helped lead the Pride March in Jerusalem yesterday and that we led it with our Torah and values flying high.
On this Shavuot take pride in who we are. Learn our Torah and sacred tradition. And don’t be afraid to fly your flag high.”