A Jewish child growing up as I did in Montreal during the 1940’s absorbed Zionism as naturally as Canadian ground did the snow in springtime. Our island city was divided between Catholic French and Protestant English, their rights equally protected by the state. The division between these two populations along ethnic and religious lines increased the staying power of other minorities, our own included; most Jewish children attended Jewish schools, all but two of which were Zionist in orientation.
My school, for example, asked students in the upper grades to raise money annually for something called the “Histadrut.” We were given booklets containing about twenty coupons arranged by color in denominations ranging from 25 cents to a dollar and we went door to door, inspecting the jambs for mezuzahs. I had no idea that the Histadrut was the labor union associated with the dominant Labor Zionist party, and I suspect that those who bought the coupons similarly assumed that they were supporting the Zionist project as a whole. My classmates and I very much enjoyed being foot soldiers in the national cause: our sense of the Jews as a cohesive and, on the whole, generous people was everywhere reinforced at home, at school, and on the street.
About the Author
Ruth R. Wisse is the Martin Peretz professor of Yiddish and professor of comparative literature at Harvard. She is the author most recently of Jews and Power (Nextbook/Schocken).