My intention here is to quickly open a can of worms, and then try to catch them as they crawl in every direction – hopefully with your help, since it seems too much to do on my own!
I am not a Zionist because of the Old and New Testament prophecies that may or may not suggest that the Jews must be regathered in Jerusalem before they are converted to seek Christ, and must be converted before Christ comes again. I am also not a Zionist because of just how beautiful the land of Israel is, of how much it feels like family, or even of the fact that my actual family lives there.
Dina Rubina, an Israeli author of Russian origin, has a terrific passage in one of her books – don’t remember which one. She is riding a bus, and she sees an Orthodox Jewish boy – tiny, skinny, nerdy, with huge thick glasses, his peises long and untidy. Rubina is secular, and the secular and Ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities in Israel have little love for each other, for a diverse bunch of cultural and political reasons. Yet, though this child’s appearance is rather pitiful, she is filled with a kind of enthusiasm and pride that this kid – who, in his family’s native Poland or Lithuania would have been mocked and spat upon for the unlucky combination of his larger-than-life Jewishness and his poor physique – this kid has a home in this place, he belongs here, and no one dare tell him otherwise.
For the believing Jew, Israel is home by divine Promise. For the Israelis who, like my family, had very little idea of Jewish practice, Israel is a home because there, whatever trouble you may have, it won’t be because you are a Jew.
For the Christian Jew, I believe there is another reason. As I wrote earlier, it seems to me that every people, beyond ethnicity, is connected by two fundamental threads: religion and land. For the Jews, in the two-thousand-year-long absence of land, religion has come to play the role of both. The Jew who previously had the whole land of Canaan for his foothold now had only as much room as fit between the covers of the Holy Book. Even taking into account the impressive diversity of schools of thought and movements within Judaism itself, this means that a Jew had very limited space – quite literally – to re-examine his religious identity. If he strayed too far in his spiritual quest, he found himself no longer connected to his people. This is especially true in countries where the tide of anti-semitism was not high enough to keep even secular Jews clustered tightly together, as happened in the Soviet Union.
To have Israel as a land, an expanded foothold shared by the Jewish people, means that every Jew is more free – politically and spiritually. (“Free” or “unconstrained” is actually very much the word that comes to mind when you socialize with Israelis; it is probably the reason they seem so relaxed despite the high probability that on any given day something somewhere will explode.) He has been reconnected to his heritage through his land, and this means that his connection to Judaism is no longer his only lifeline. It is therefore less forced, less nervous, less a matter of survival, and more a choice of his own heart.
I want to speculate – I believe – that this freedom to be a Jew is also a freedom to inquire about the Jew Christ, without one’s entire identity at stake. Accepting baptism in Israel is not equivalent with becoming a member of Gentile society. Though the Israeli government, once a decade or so, attempts to toughen anti-missionary laws (usually unsuccessfully), and though being a Christian in Israel is by no means easy, I believe that the return of Jews to their land is a greater force than these.