Israel Record

Yearning for Zion

Yearning for Zion
The Dream
The Reality

Israel Record Contents

Seal of State of Israel

Yearning for Zion

            As long as deep in the heart,
          The soul of a Jew yearns,
          And towards the East,
          An eye looks to Zion,
          Our hope is not lost ...

ZIONISM is the Jewish national movement of rebirth and renewal in the land of Israel the historical birthplace of the Jewish people. The biblical word "Zion" refers to both the land of Israel and Jerusalem. The longing for the return to Zion began with the exile of the Jewish people to Babylon after the destruction of the First Temple in 586 B.C.E. In Psalms it is written: "By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion."

In Zionist thought, Jewish life outside the Land of Israel is a life of exile. In his book Rome and Jerusalem, early Zionist thinker Moses Hess wrote: "Two periods of time shaped the development of Jewish civilization: the first, after the liberation from Egypt, and the second, the return from Babylon. The third shall come with the redemption from the third exile."

All aspects of Jewish spiritual life culture, prayer, ritual and literature have been suffused over the centuries with the yearning to return to Zion. Since the exile, Jerusalem has embodied Jewish yearning for the return to Zion. When praying, Jews across the globe turn towards Jerusalem. The two-thousand-year-old daily prayers continually refer to the return to Zion, such as this one from the thrice-daily silent devotion: "And let our eyes behold Thy return in mercy to Zion. Blessed art Thou, O Lord, who restorest Thy divine presence unto Zion." Among other numerous examples, the return to Zion is included in the grace after meals and Passover Seder tables resonate every year with the refrain "Next Year in Jerusalem."

The destruction of the two Temples inflicted upon the Jewish people a profound sense of immeasurable loss. The trauma of the Temple and the exile from Jerusalem permeate Jewish practice and prayer. It is annually commemorated by two minor fast days and one major fast of deep mourning the Fast of the Ninth of Ab.

Rabbinic tradition records many customs in memory of the destruction of the Temple and of Jerusalem. These include: renting one's garments upon approach to the area where the Temple once stood, leaving a small space unfinished when plastering a house in remembrance of Jerusalem and recalling the destruction at the time of utmost joy under the wedding canopy. The potency of the tie to Jerusalem is expressed in Psalm 137: "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy..."

Following their exile from the Land of Israel, the Jews dispersed to other countries, mainly in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East where they established many large Jewish communities. Over the centuries, they experienced both periods of freedom, growth and prosperity, and periods of discrimination, physical persecution and expulsions. During their long exile and particularly during times of persecution, Jews the world over clung to the hope that one day they would return to their ancestral homeland.

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