Israeli President Isaac Herzog speaking at the 125th anniversary of the first Zionist Congress, in the same ballroom where the original event took place. (Photo/Zack Bodner)
Israeli President Isaac Herzog speaking at the 125th anniversary of the first Zionist Congress, in the same ballroom where the original event took place. (Photo/Zack Bodner)

At 125th anniversary of Zionism, looking forward to Zionism 3.0

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More than 300 armed police lined the streets, and helicopters circled the skies. At the Three Kings Hotel, snipers paced on the rooftop, while special forces in Zodiac boats patrolled the riverfront.

This was the scene in Basel, Switzerland, Aug. 28-29, at a celebration of the 125th anniversary of the first Zionist Congress. The World Zionist Organization, which was created at that congress in 1897, had invited 1,200 guests from around the world to this celebratory event — and I was lucky enough to be one of them.

Outside the convention center, the digital billboard flashed “Welcome” and “125 Years of Zionism” in Hebrew and English. Inside, giant blue banners were emblazoned with images and quotes from Theodor Herzl, the founder of political Zionism. The energy was palpable and the enthusiasm contagious.

As the CEO of the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto and founder of the Z3 Project, I was invited to speak on a panel titled “Z3: Zionism in the Next Era” with two co-panelists, Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon, formerly Israel’s minister of defense and the Israel Defense Force chief of staff, and Amanda Berman, founder and executive director of the American feminist Zionist group Zioness. Our panel had less than 20 minutes to discuss some pretty weighty issues. But it was clear that the foremost goal of this landmark gathering was to bring the band back together.

To be Jewish in 2022 is to have a place to go.

We heard from elected Israeli officials, a former head of the Mossad, global experts on antisemitism, leading Jewish philanthropists, women rabbis crossing boundaries, an Israel Prize winner who’d lost two sons to terrorism and more than 100 others. Several dozen young social entrepreneurs discussed putting Jewish values to work saving the world.

My panel shared our thoughts on the Zionism of the future, and I have to confess to kvelling because the organizers had adopted our language for this next era — Zionism 3.0 — and the chair of the WZO even quoted our core principle: “Unity, Not Uniformity.”

The final celebratory gala took place on Monday night in the Stadtcasino Concert Hall, where the first Zionist Congress had met exactly 125 years previously. The fog machines and an actor impersonating Herzl may have been a bit kitschy, but when the entire room stood to sing “Hatikvah” together, even I became a little emotional.

I walked back to my hotel slowly that night. Looking back at the iconic Stadtcasino lit up in the darkness, I thought about what Herzl famously wrote in his journal: “At Basel, I founded the Jewish State. If I said this out loud today, I would be answered by universal laughter. Perhaps in five years, and certainly in fifty, everyone will admit it.”

Indeed, it took almost exactly 50 years from that moment for Israel to gain independence. The next 50 years were spent building the state. Now, halfway into Zionism’s third half-century, what will define this next era? I thought about how some of the speakers answered that question.

Zack Bodner (center) speaking on a panel at the 125th anniversary of the first Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland. (Photo/Courtesy Bodner)
Zack Bodner (center) speaking on a panel at the 125th anniversary of the first Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland. (Photo/Courtesy Bodner)

Author Gil Troy believes Zionism 1.0 was the era of the pioneers, Zionism 2.0 that of the builders, and now Zionism 3.0 that of the torchbearers. So what is the new framework for engagement between Zionists in Israel and in the Diaspora?

Jewish People Policy Institute Director Yedidia Stern said that in the previous era, Diaspora Jews were the “rich uncle” to the bold, chutzpadik sabra-nephews. Can we now become true siblings who love, support and respect each other despite our differences?

Rabbi Moshe Reuven Azman, Chief Rabbi of Ukraine, spoke pointedly: “To be Jewish in 2022 is to have a place to go.” But Israel was not created just to give Jews a safe space. Maj. Gen. Gershon Hacohen passionately declared, “If all we wanted was security, why not settle in California?” He asserted, “We must translate our prosperity into something positive for the world.”

Philosopher Micah Goodman insisted that early Zionism was about finding “a universal solution for a Jewish problem,” but the next generation is about finding a “Jewish solution to universal problems.” President Isaac Herzog took it further: “Today, Zionism means responsibility. It means tikkun olam.”

As I lay awake at 4 a.m., it all fell into place. The Jews were put on Earth with a purpose: to repair the brokenness of the world. This is why we exist, and how we can be a light unto the nations. Israel is at the tip of the spear, doing that holy work!

As we plan our eighth annual Z3 Conference, I invite you to join us in this sacred work by being part of the conversation — in person — on Sunday, Dec. 11, 2022, at the Palo Alto JCC. Who knows … if we get it right, maybe in 125 years our great-grandchildren will gather at the Palo Alto JCC to remember what we built here together.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of J.

Zack Bodner
Zack Bodner

Zack Bodner is Chief Executive Officer of the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto.