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Eight Stories of Zionism: Straus Center Hosts Author Rick Richman

On Tuesday March 5, 2024, the Zahava and Moshael Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought hosted Rick Richman, historian and distinguished author of the recent book, And None Shall Make Them Afraid: Eight Stories of the Modern State of Israel. In a thought-provoking conversation with Straus Center Deputy Director Rabbi Dr. Stu Halpern, Richman delved into his book, discussed his theory of “Americanism and Zionism,” and highlighted the enduring relevance of Jewish Zionist leaders, particularly in the wake of October 7th. 

Richman began with personal anecdotes from his youth, reflecting on the challenges faced by American Jews in the aftermath of the Holocaust. He lamented how the transmission of Zionist history was often neglected by American Jews who were attempting to overcome the Shoah. “After the Holocaust, American Jews suffered from survivor’s guilt, bystanders’ guilt, and sheer shock,” Richman explained. “They didn't want to tell their children about it - they wanted to escape history, not be bound by it.” As he researched his book, he was often amazed and inspired by the material he uncovered, stories of Zionist founders that he had never learned in his childhood. “As I wrote the book, I would come home to my wife and say, "How come I didn't know this?!"” Richman explained.

Despite the trauma experienced by his parent’s generation, Richman emphasized his long standing connection to Israel, recounting his time as a student visiting Kibbutz Be'eri where he joined patrols with unloaded rifles, hoping to deter would-be intruders.

Central to the conversation was Richman’s book, an exploration of eight seminal figures in Zionist history—four from Europe (Theodor Herzl, Chaim Weizmann, Vladimir Jabotinsky, and Abba Eban) and four from America (Louis D. Brandeis, Golda Meir, Ben Hecht, and Ron Dermer). “The book is a history of Zionism told in a different way - from the ground up - and it’s a more interesting story,” Richman said. “The 20th century was the most extraordinary ideological century,” he added, explaining that the book dives into the intellectual and social revolutions that Zionism and Americanism brought to the world.

As Richman illustrates in his book, the dual pillars of Zionism and Americanism form a crucial nexus with profound implications for the flourishing of liberalism, religious tolerance, freedom of speech, and the foundational belief in the sanctity of human life. For Richman, the creation and survival of the State of Israel is not just a Zionist concern, but is of "world necessity.” In many ways, Richman sees the Jewish state as embodying many American ideals that have global resonance. 

Rick Richman
After the event, Richman asked to meet with Straus Scholar Rebecca Guzman (SCW ‘26) to discuss her recently published piece in Jewish Journal.

Regarding the impact of the October 7th attacks, Dr. Halpern asked Richman if the writings and leadership of Theodor Herzl could serve as a modern-day inspiration and “re-straighten our backs.” In response, Richman passionately argued against the "Great Man” theory of history, illustrating how “small individuals,” like Theodor Herzl, Golda Meir, David Ben Gurion, and others achieved world-changing feats. “We think of these Zionist founders as world historical figures - they lived full lives - but when they started out they were young people, some even came late to Zionism. But they had remarkable, amazing stories,” Richman explained. He encouraged the Straus Scholars in the room to see that same potential in themselves, despite the challenges facing world Jewry in the aftermath of October 7th. 

This event was hosted by the Straus Center Impact Office. The Impact Office aims to further the impact of Straus alumni, current Straus Scholars, and other students involved in politics, policy, and journalism on both of Yeshiva University’s undergraduate campuses. You can learn more about the Straus Center and the Straus Impact Office here.