The Jewish people were, for much of the last century described as “a people without a land,” but that is not totally accurate. Many would say that in fact that many Jews were and continue to be “a people of two lands.” Even before the founding of the modern State of Israel, Jews around the world found themselves with torn allegiances. As Diaspora Jews we have always found ourselves with emotional, spiritual and historic ties to the land of Israel, while simultaneously possessing physical, economic, and societal ties to our resident countries and regions. The situation is no less true today for American, Candain, British, Australian or other Diaspora Jewry from the 'developed' world. While we love and cherish our connection to the land and State of Israel, the overwhelming majority of us have no intention of making Aliyah and we tie ourselves closely to our home countries.
As a young adult, I often found myself asking questions like: 'Am I a Canadian Jew or a Jewish Canadian?' 'If Canada and Israel went to war, which side would I be on?' The truth is, I am both and neither. We all are. I am a Jew and I am Canadian (and American I must admit). I love Israel, both its people and its land. I love my Diaspora homes too. From the rainforests of the British Columbia to the wetlands of Florida. This duality of allegiances of love and connection to land is something I draw strength from, helping me to understand the intricacies of our global ecosystem. (I also have major problems with both, but that seems to just come along with caring and love).
The narrative that the Jews are ‘a people without access to land” is a good motivator for Zionist involvement and was true to much of 19thCentury Eastern Europe, however it does not pay justice to the complexity of Jews historic connection to their home nations and home soils, across the world and across time.
Jews lived as farmers, dairy herders, etc., in close connection to local environment for hundreds of years in places as diverse as Russia, Iraq and Ethiopia. In these and other societies Jews created rural communities rooted in their local ecosystem, agricultural land, language and culture. While building roots in local environs, each community continued to pray facing Jerusalem, remembering the importance of that land as well. Through this duality, grounding in our local environs while dreaming of Jerusalem, the Jews solidified their position as a ‘people with two lands.” The same duality remains true in America today.
A recent growth in the Jewish farming movement has inspired young Jewish adults to work in Jewish farming communities across North America. Only 20 years ago it would have unheard of for American Jews to farm in America. Farming was an activity tied to land and as such was tied to pioneering the land of Israel. Jewish farming communities did exist in America throughout much of the mid 20th Century, but focussed primarily on training farmers who would then move to Israel.
The Zionist model of Jewish connection to the land of Israel alone, was only a short period in American Jewish history. In the late 19th through early 20th Century, farming was a fairly standard, profession for an American Jew. In fact throughout the Southern United States Jews have owned and operated farms for close to 300 years. Over the past 100 years, the profession of farmer has lowered in status in American society and even more so in Jewish society. The push to be a successful doctor, lawyer or business man, made a ‘back to the land’ choice almost impossible for most Jewish young adults. Those who did so, we glorified only if done in the name of Zionism and pioneering spirit.
Fortunately, these attitudes are changing. The growth in interest and acceptance of Jewish farming in America is partly a response to the global environmental crisis, but its appeal goes beyond that. This movement represents a community acceptance that American Jews can love both America and Israel without conflict or contradiction, and a realization that we as American Jewry have a civic responsibility to protect the people, animals and land of Israel, America and the entire World.
In the American Jewish community the definition of what is means to be a pioneer or to be successful is changing. Young adults are encouraged to explore new professional and personal paths to help America, Israel and the World. In this age of global environmental crisis and interconnectedness, working to protect our planet locally and globally, is good for humanity, good for the Jews and good for Israel.