As we approach the 69th birthday of the founding of the state of Israel, I am mindful of the achievements and successes as well as the problems and challenges that we still face. As the state begins its 70th year of existence, and I near the end of my 70th year, I am grateful for both.
Today I watched a children’s TV show at home with my eldest granddaughter about Israeli Independence Day. It focused on our achievements and successes—how we created a state out of nothing, how we have developed the country in so many miraculous ways during these last 69 years, how we have revived the Hebrew language and Hebrew culture, how we welcomed and integrated Jewish immigrants from all over the world, and how our greatest success one day will be when we really live in peace with our neighbors. It was nostalgic, and I admit that I even shed a few tears.
In contrast, a few weeks ago, I heard one of Israel’s most important authors, David Grossman, whom I have always greatly respected and admired, speak at a Times of Israel cultural event in downtown Jerusalem. Grossman is the author of many renowned works of literature, and some very important non-fiction books, including The Yellow Wind, which interviewed Jews and Palestinians living in “the territories”, otherwise known as the West Bank and Gaza, or sometimes known as “Judea and Samaria” (Biblical terms used by right-wing ultra-nationalist groups). It is now 30 years since this book was written and now there is much less hope than there was then, according to Grossman. Yet, he added,
Any future peace process is better than the status quo.
Grossman also said that the homecoming of the Jewish people is one of the great stories of the modern world, but “in the last 50 years, things have gone awry. The nationalists [and he also called them “fascists”] are taking over in Israel and preventing peace from happening. This is very bad for Israel… since The Six Day War, Zionism has been greatly distorted. Israel was created so that we would no longer be victims, and yet we feel as victims all the time.” I couldn’t agree more.
So, is the cup half-full or half-empty? The answer is: it depends on how you look at the cup.
On some days, I feel the miracle of Israel in my heart and in my mind. After all these years, I remain a committed Zionist. But not the kind of “Zionism” propagated in recent years by our ultra-nationalist and ultra “religious” right-wing governments. Not the hateful, violent kind, spewing forth from the mouths of too many of our so-called “leaders”—whose statements I find shameful and embarrassing. I am still what you might call a “humanist Zionist”, the kind that wants to grant equal rights to all people in our state, the kind that seeks to live in peaceful relations with our neighbors within the state of Israel, as well as with Palestinians who will one day live in a state of their own side-by-side with the state of Israel. I am a Zionist in the tradition of Martin Buber, Haim Nahman Bialik, Achad HaAm, Amos Oz, David Grossman, Rabbi Michael Melchior, and many other cultural and spiritual leaders. I don’t want to continue to rule over another people. I want them to have their full cultural, religious and political rights. At the same time, I want them, the Palestinians, to end their “armed struggle” (terrorism) against us and to genuinely seek to live in peace with us.
On many days, when I hear the violent and virulent statements of too many of our awful politicians on the radio or the television, I feel that the cup is half empty, and I fall into feelings of despair. It seems that many of our “leaders” would prefer to live by the sword forever (as our Prime Minister said last year) than to actually seek peace and pursue it.
But on other days, especially now in springtime, I still feel hopeful. I join together with other like-minded people and organizations (there are many of them in Israeli civil society) in prayer, reflection and action, in order to do whatever is possible to ensure a better future for all of God’s children in this state and this region. I write and I try to help to educate the next generation.
And, most of all, I watch my children—who are now grown and do important educational and social justice work—who keep the flicker of hope alive through their teaching and their actions, and I enjoy being part of the ongoing love of Judaism and the love of Israel that my grandchildren feel in their happy lives every day.