07/22/2014 11:13 pm ET Updated Sep 21, 2014

Why I Am a Zionist

Twenty-five years ago, in late 1989, I enrolled in an ulpan or Hebrew immersion program at Mishmar Haemek, a kibbutz in the Jezreel Valley.

When I met the kibbutzniks as well as the other students in the ulpan, many of them would ask me two questions.

First, they asked if I had graduated from college. The answer was yes. I was puzzled that people asked me this question until I learned that most of my fellow ulpanim, at least those who hailed from western countries, were high school or college dropouts. Some had even gotten into trouble with the law and had fled to Israel to evade the long arm of justice.

Then there were those who had emigrated from the then-Soviet Union, Hungary, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Mauritius or other developing countries and had come to the Jewish state for asylum, job opportunities and freedom from tyranny.

Those were the reasons why they were in Israel.

But why was I? That was the second question.

I never knew how to answer that question. All I ever said was the truth: "I love Israel."

I don't believe that my love for Israel derives simply from the fact that I grew up in the 1970s when so many tragedies befell the Jewish state.

The Yom Kippur War, a war that brought Israel many casualties and demoralized the nation for a period of time, broke out at my birthday party in 1973. I will never forget my father pulling me into the den at our home in Southern Connecticut, pointing at the television screen and saying something to the effect of, "See! See what's happening to your people!"

And I'll never forget driving into Worcester, Mass., my dad's hometown, on the Fourth of July in 1976 when we heard on the radio that Israel had successfully rescued the hijacked airline passengers at Entebbe. I remember we all cheered, my brother and I in the back seat of the car, my father and mother in the front seat.

It was thrilling that Israel had defeated the terrorists, although it was heartbreaking that Yoni Netanyahu, commander of the mission and brother of current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, had died in the raid.

Of course, I will also never forget that my father turned off the TV four years earlier when I was watching Mark Spitz win a record number of Gold Medals for the U.S. Olympic swim team.

It was only years later, when I started reading the papers, that I realized what had happened: that Palestinian terrorists had murdered Israeli Olympians in 1972.

But my love for Israel goes deeper than this recent tragic history. It goes back to what it means to be Jewish.

When I think about it, being Jewish connects me to the world of imagination, to a people who were the first ones to articulate and adhere to the idea of monotheism and a code of ethics, to a people who never gave up on those ideas, who never departed from that imaginative realm even when they were living in exile, away from their homeland.

I am grateful that I live at a time when there is not only Israel but also the United States, whose founders, in touting the concept of a city on a hill, were consciously trying to create a new Jerusalem in the New World.

Jews do not have a monopoly on imagination, ideas or anything else. There are Jewish thugs, Jewish idiots and Jewish criminals. I have encountered some in my time.

But for me being Jewish means being loyal to those ideas that came before me and to the people who still live and practice those ideas and ideals.

I have had a few mishaps over the years, including some in Israel, which I have written about in the past. But nothing can take away the love I have for a people who famously resurrected themselves from the ashes of the Holocaust.

It goes without saying that Israel, unlike Hamas and the other terror outfits in Gaza, keeps its military bases as far away from population centers as possible. It goes without saying that Israel tries its very best to avoid civilian casualties while Hamas cynically does its best to put innocent Gazans in harm's way. And it goes without saying that Arabs have more rights in Israel than they do in most Arab countries.

I would never say that Israel is a perfect nation. No such nation exists. There are Jewish extremists who have committed horrific crimes. Who can forget the hateful yeshiva student who assassinated Yitzhak Rabin? And who can forget the more recent "revenge" killing of an innocent Palestinian boy?

But Israel is a country of laws. It brings Jewish terrorists, just as it brings Palestinian terrorists, to justice. Israel treats them all as pariahs, not martyrs.

Some day this war will end, and flights will resume to Ben-Gurion Airport. And some day I will be on one of those flights to return to a country I love and revere.

And if I am asked why I am in Israel, I will give the answer that has always been apparent to anyone with a brain in his or her head: Because I am Jewish and because I am an idealist.