That Jewish society evolves over time should not come as a shock to anyone. Israeli society, as a part of the greater Jewish nation, is no different. Today on Yom Ha'atzmaut it would be a good idea to reflect on how Israeli society has changed, from the ealy days of the first Aliyos to today.
The changes currently occuring are worth paying attention to and, for the Religious Zionist movement, responding to with a new initiative. Secular Zionism, written off in the surge of post-Zionism after the first Oslo Discord was signed, has started to stage a comeback due to the efforts of its two current champions, Yair Lapid and Tzipi Livni. Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid, its religious members not withstanding, is about creating a secular israeli movement with cultural trappings of Judaism as long as they don't interfere with secular liberal values. Much like the original Labour Zionists, Lapid wants to remold Israeli society in a secular Western one with cultural hints of its religious origins. Tzipi Livni is even more direct as her ongoing opposition to Bibi Netanyahu's efforts to ensure Israel is recognized as a Jewish state indicate. Having failed to sell out Israel to its enemies through negotiation she is open about her desire for the state to commit cultural suicide and give up its principle Jewish nature.
Against this we have the Chareidi community which, more than ever, wishes to monopolize Judaism to itself, leaving everyone else, regardless of level of identification or observance, on the outside. For their leadership Israel is a piggybank to be raided whenever desired and then spit on after the withdrawal is made. Yes there is a large and powerful Chareidi outreach industry but it is not interested in greater Jewisih nationhood, only in bringing people into whatever branch of the Chareidi community the particular organization represents while presenting that branch as the totality of Judaism.
It is therfore imperative that Religious Zionism, still feeling some sense of confidence with the presence and success of Bayit Yehudi, to get into the outreach game.
Religious Zionist outreach should not follow the Chareidi model. It is not in anyone's interest to hire people to preach to the unattached about the benefits of wearing a kippah serugah and singing loudly on Yom Ha'atzmaut. Rahter, this outreach should follow the model created by the early Zionists if it wishes to make a real difference.
For those who don't remember, Secular Zionism's early modus operandi was to speak of the "New Jew". Now, this Jew had very little to do with Judaism and, in fact, defined himself by opposing many Jewish values. Zionists spoke of the downtrodden, defeatist golus Jews and how the New Jew, unlike his predecessor, would stand upright, be equal with members of other nations and embrace world culture in its fullest. He would embrace work, culture and enlightenment and these New Jews would show the world that our nation, far from being a different, isolated culture, represented the best of what the family of nations had to offer.
The advantage of this model was that it was global. It appealed to the non-religious European socialist Jew, the one who already had a foot out the door due to assimilation and the allure of non-Jewish philosophies. It also appealed to the religous Jew, sick of his ghetto existence, overbearing rabbinic leaders and a life of poverty and wordly ignorance. The promise of a new Jewish society, even if there was nothing really Jewish about it except the ethnic background of its members, held great appeal.
The main failing of Secular Zionism was that it was geared towards nation building. One the country was built and running it lost a lot of its appeal. It's one thing to appeal to a person to become a pioneer and drain the swamp. The pioneer who becomes a career person and lives in the apartment building where the swamp once stood isn't always as full of idealism.
The other failing is that its underlying motto, "Let's show all the peoples of the world that we can do whatever they do!" isn't really that inspiring. Okay, you've built a secular socialist democracy. So what? It's been done.
Here is where Religious Zionism must come in. Like the secular counterpart, Religious Zionism calls out for the creating of a "New Jew". This model, however, is vastly different from the secular one. First we must examine what the Old Jew is. One type of Old Jew is one that practices a Judaism bereft of any national element. He has a life of common ritual, perhaps even a specific outfit he wears every day like a uniform, but outside of the personal element there is no real application of his Judaism. Because he doesn't understand the priorities of a nation he cannot fully comprehend certain issues. The same Jew who will only touch a jug of milk with four hechsherim doesn't feel repelled by cheating on his taxes. He can understand how tefillin are made, not so much how societies function on a macro level because it's simply not part of his Judaism. Despite this he sees other Jews, religious and non-religious, and wonders about his connection to them. He hears the Chareidi propaganda on how evil the State of Israel is but can't udnerstand it because it contradicts the reality of Israel he has seen with his own eyes.
The other type is one that sees being Jewish as an ethnic identity. Being Jewish means a special type of cuisine, certain holidays, perhaps an appearance from time to time in the local "temple" as a show of cultural awareness. He might not even been aware of the national concept of Judaism, seeing himself as a Canadian of Jewish background, a Jewish Canadian rather than a Canadian Jew. Yet when the annual JNF appeal envelope arrives in his mailbox or the newcaster on the radio starts a sentence with "In Israel today..." something stirs within him, a sense that there is a connection to other Jews he has nothing in common with even though he doesn't understand why that connection exists.
(Before anyone starts screaming, I'm not suggesting all Jews other than Religious Zionists fit into one of these two categories. I'm identifying two specific groups within the Jewish community that I believe are relevant to my point)
Religious Zionist outreach needs to develop a system that reaches out to these two groups. For the Chareidi the message must be a simple one of completeness. A Chareidi, by definition, wants to be the best Jew he can be, to worship God in as full a fashion as possible. Almost two thousand yeaers of exile has caused us, including "the Gedolim", to become convinced that Judaism minus the national component, is a complete package but even a cursory perusal of the classic sources like, oh say, the Tanach and Talmud shows that this is not the case. Adding the national component to his observance would enhance the Chareidi Jewish practice by reintroducing those long-dormant elements. Now the Chareidi learns Nezikin and about whose ox gores whose before falling into a pit someone else left in the public thoroughfare. Imagine approaching these teachings from a perspective of modern concepts in damage. Imagine that being the mandatory way of learning those gemaras because they are now relevant in daily societal life.
In addition there is a concept of greater Jewish nationhood that Religious Zionism offers. As opposed to the parochial "Us first and only" ghetto model of Judaism espoused by many Chareidi leaders Religious Zionism offers the Chareidi a chance to be part of a growing, dynamic nation. Imagine Chareidim in the workplace serving as positive models of strict Torah observance in both personal and public arenae, just like their Religious Zionist counterparts. Imagine Chareidi soldiers infused with a sense that they are not simply doing their civic duty but performing the mitzvah of protecting other Jewish lives every moment they're awake.
For the non-religious Old Jew Religious Zionism offers the ultimate cultural identity. For many non-religious Jews our nation is irrelevant because it doesn't seem to offer what modern society does. Religious Zionism, with its mission to create and run a modern state al pi halacha as much as possible, provides an alternative model. You can be a modern person, you can be a member of a society, all while expressing Jewish values and behaviours. If one is looking for a complete cultural identity along with a sense of purpose, Judaism can offer this and, along the way, these folks can learn that through Torah observances one leads a more complete life, feels a greater sense of identity with the Jewish nation and helps move history forward to the completion of the Final Redemption.
In other words, I'm not suggest Religious Zionist equivalents of Chabad Houses or Aish HaTorah seminars. Yes there are elements of those models that need to be imitated if this outreach initiative is going to succeed but as opposed to how the Chareidi model works, waiting for the non-religious guy to come to them, Religios Zionism needs to go to the people, in both the Chareidi and non-religious communities and show, through example, through vigorous challenge and debate, the value of the complete national approach to Judaism and how it is the future model of our nation.