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Two weeks of distress

The distressing events of the past two weeks here in Israel have left us all in a state of sadness and depression. No matter what one’s opinion is regarding the government’s policies, the events and pictures of the evictions from Gaza are burned into our minds in a tragic manner. Yet, in a perverse and perplexing sense, I believe these events present the religious community here in Israel, if not worldwide, with an opportunity.

To a great extent, the ideal of traditional Zionism has waned. The grandchildren of the people who built Israel by settling the land, the people of choma umigdal – stockades and towers, creating new settlements overnight during the 1930’ and 1940’s – have given up on that ideal. In building a “democratic, Jewish” society here in Israel, large sections of the Israeli public have been demonized, excluded and alienated. No clear message of vision and hope has been articulated to the general public. The divisions in Israeli society are deeper and more pronounced than ever before. Young people in misguided idealism have turned violent against other Jews and those scars are bound to remain for many years, if not longer. Nowhere is heard an encouraging word nor are their many soothing voices heard in our society. The collapse of traditional Zionism and of

land building leaves a void in the Israeli society. There is no common ideal that unites us and transcends our significant differences on matters of religious observance, political parties and social direction. Nature abhors a vacuum and this is true for society as well. Something will have to arise to fill that void. And this is where the opportunity for the religious community arises.

The religious community should state that it wishes to build a fair and just society, infused with Jewish Torah values. It cannot insist on coercing religious observance of the mitzvot, a counterproductive policy if there ever was one, but it can offer a vision of a more equitable and just society based upon the traditional values and heritage of Judaism.

Democracy is a form of government. It is not an ideal nor is it a panacea for our ills. Subverted, it becomes the tyranny of the majority, no less lethal than other forms of tyranny. A proposal to really teach Jewish values – compassion, solidarity, self-worth, Jewish (not merely Israeli) identity and knowledge of the basic ideas and rituals of Judaism and a respect for the Shabat – coupled with an accurate portrayal of Jewish history and a recognition and appreciation of the achievements of the galut Jews could help unify Jews living in Israel. Instead of using our efforts to deny our legitimate rights and claims as Jews here in Israel, a program that asserts the true nature of our history and emphasizes the miracle of our survival as people, that teaches Jewish values, that understands the importance of Mishna and Talmud in developing a Jewish

society should be implemented. None of the reforms proposed for the Israeli school system will have any lasting value as long as Jewish values and Jewish knowledge are not a very important part of the curriculum.

Schools that attempt to teach facts and knowledge will never succeed if they do not impart a sense of vision and wonder as well. In our current situation, only Jewish religious ideas and vision can accomplish this task of providing vision.

The religious political parties and establishment have been woefully silent about this vision thing. Instead, they have concentrated almost all of their efforts and energies in obtaining money for their schools and/or building settlements in the Land of Israel. These are worthy and necessary goals but they do not speak any longer to the majority of Jews living here in Israel. They impart no sense of common vision and have turned out to be divisive policies. The prophet Yeshayahu told us to speak to the “heart of Jerusalem,” to its emotions and soul and to comfort Jerusalem with the sense of a vision of a better tomorrow and a lasting vision of inspiration and example. The religious community here in Israel in spite of all of its various shadings and internal divisions, nevertheless now has the opportunity to fill the void in the Israeli soul. Its rabbis and teachers, its political and social leaders should articulate this vision, clearly, softly, with persuasion and talent and to rise above the political frays that so sadden us. Abba Eban once said about our Arab cousins that “they never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” Let us of the religious community not be guilty of that same fault. Our opportunity to help the Jewish people and the State of Israel now beckons.


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