My WeWriWa post is here.
Theodor (né Tivadar) Herzl (2 May 1860–3 July 1904), Father of Zionism
Contrary to what you might’ve heard about Zionism from the modern-day extreme Left, it’s simply a movement for Jewish sovereignty in our own nation. It never outlived its usefulness, and there’s absolutely nothing racist about it. Certain individuals don’t speak to the movement as a whole.
There are many streams—Religious, Socialist, Practical, Political, Labour, Synthetic, Revisionist, Revolutionary, Cultural, Neo, et al. It’s a total lie that you have to be super-religious and/or super-conservative politically to be a Zionist. Many of the early Zionists were committed Socialists.
Though many countries emancipated their Jewish communities between 1791–1923, it was still very difficult to live as a religious minority. Just because the law says one thing doesn’t mean all of society will change long-established attitudes overnight.
There also wasn’t any emancipation in places like the Russian Empire, and while the Jewish communities in the Islamic world were almost equal legally, they had dhimmi status. Dhimmitude entailed certain restrictions, and the payment of special taxes.
While I still feel it held people back to exclusively speak Yiddish and make no attempt to become a real part of their respective host cultures, I now understand why so many resisted. What incentive did they have to, e.g., adopt real Russian names, speak Polish, dress in modern clothes, or apply to secular schools when they were so hated and held back from so many opportunities?
Moving to Israel, then called Palestine, was freedom. Even North America, Britain, Australia, and New Zealand didn’t afford the opportunity to be surrounded by one’s own people, instinctively understood, part of the majority. The Romans renamed Israel Palestina as a humiliation, a punishment, using the name of the enemy Philistines. Arabs in Israel didn’t begin calling themselves Palestinians till 1967!
These early pioneers took desert wastelands and turned them into oases, dug ditches, planted crops and fruit trees, established modern towns and cities, brought this largely abandoned land into the modern era. This is how Tel-Aviv looked in 1909, when the first settlers (drawn by lot) arrived:
People needed a safe refuge from pogroms, institutionalised discrimination, numerus clausus quotas for schools, anti-Semitism, denied opportunities. Had there been a self-governing State of Israel, free of British rule, so many people would’ve been saved from the Shoah. Thanks to the horrific White Paper, countless people were denied immigration visas when there was still a window of opportunity to flee.
Most of my Hungarian-born characters were deeply involved in the Socialist–Zionist youth group Hashomer Hatzair, which convinced them their place is in Israel. After the war, all the survivors do indeed go to Israel, either on legal visas after the British are gone, or through relatives already in Israel sending papers for them.
Partisans’ Memorial in Givatayim, Israel, Copyright Avi1111 (Dr. Avishai Teicher)
“Zog Nit Keyn Mol” (“Never Say”) was written by Yiddish poet and partisan Hirsh Glik in 1943. Born in Vilna (then part of Poland) in 1922, he began writing poetry in his teens and co-founded Yungvald (Young Forest), a group of young Jewish poets. Following the German invasion of the Baltic states in 1941, he was sent to the camp Weiße Wache, and later transferred to the Vilna Ghetto.
Many ghettoes tried to keep up a semblance of normalcy with a strong cultural life, and Vilna was possibly the greatest of all cultural centres. Hirsh was a big part of the artistic community, and simultaneously served in the underground. On 21 January 1942, the Fareynikte Partizaner Organizatsye (United Partisan Organisation) was founded, with the motto “We will not go like sheep to the slaughter.”
Paul Robeson, one of my heroes, singing a shortened version in the USSR in 1949
In 1943, Hirsh wrote “Zog Nit Keyn Mol” to the music of Russian composer Dmitriy Yakovlevich Pokrass. Though he managed to flee during the ghetto’s liquidation in October 1943, he was recaptured and deported to a camp in Estonia. He continued writing poetry and songs in captivity, and escaped in July 1944 as the Red Army neared. Hirsh was never heard from again.
The song made the rounds among other partisans, and today, it’s commonly sung at Shoah memorial services all over the world. Though my characters aren’t from a Yiddish-speaking area, they nevertheless express sentiments from the song a few times, “Never say this is our final road when the hour we longed for is so near.”