At Boker tov, Boulder!, Yael has put up an insightful quotation (her own) about Zionism:
“What is Zionism if not the opposite of cowardice? And what are we without Zionism, but homeless … no matter where we happen to live.”
Her two concise sentences remind me of two essays, by two of the greatest Zionists of the 19th and 20th centuries, both of whom had the courage to turn down their opportunities for higher education in Russia, to pursue a greater goal.
The first is “The Way of Repentance,” part of the autobiography of Moses Leib Lilienblum, one of the most influential Jewish writers of his time, who died in 1910 in Odessa. He became a Zionist after the pogroms in Russia in 1881, writing as follows about the experience:
The pogroms taught me their lesson, and I was in despair about our future. My studies seemed a sin against my unfortunate people. Our sons were robbed and derided, our daughters shamed, and all our hopes for equality came to naught. Our people were fleeing the sword, misfortune all around, the present bitter, the future fearful -- and I was thinking of entering the University! For years I had striven toward this. But now I am convinced that our misfortune is not the lack of general education but that we are aliens. We will remain aliens when we will be stuffed with education … I terminated my studies and, with great dedication, I began to prepare myself for my new ideal, though I did not know how.
The second is “Memoirs By My Typewriter,” written by Vladimir (Ze’ev) Jabotinsky in 1932 (having formed the Jewish Legion to fight in World War I to free Palestine from Ottoman control), looking back at his life in Odessa in the 1890s, when he was a young boy in school there:
I was not engaged in any revolutions. The extent of my liberalism was that I forgot to get a haircut. Though I hated school like poison, I was not expelled. It was much worse. I ran away on my own -- two months before the end of the term of the seventh, the next-to-last class.
Running away from a Russian gymnasium, which had been so difficult to get into, was a great foolishness, especially a year and two months before completing it. And until today I thank the Lord that I did so, not listening to the advice of friends and uncles and aunts. Because I believe that life is logical. If one completes a Russian gymnasium in the normal way, then one must go to a Russian University; and then one becomes a lawyer. Then when war comes, one already has a wealthy practice and one cannot leave for England and become a soldier. So one remains in Russia until a Bolshevik upheaval erupts and then, considering my deeply reactionary world outlook, one would lie six feet underground without a gravestone.
But I am continuing another career, one which started with a foolishness. I am thinking of writing a scientific tractate on the importance of not being afraid to commit foolishnesses. It is one of the most successful ways of living like a human being.