A Mother’s Plea

More often than not, the answers that we offer our children in response to their questions represent the very honest and bare truth. Viewing each and every one of these questions as an occasion for an important ‘teaching moment’, we duly ponder and reflect in order to maximize the potential of such opportunity. The answers we offer are uttered with profound hope that we do not call into question important messages or undermine deep values that we have inculcated or hope to instill.

As the news of the upcoming elections broke on the way to basketball, the questions came. In response to the question “How come there is another election so soon?” I responded that the coalition government could not work together over the last two years and advance vital agendas. The next question came in statement form, “it has not been two years. I remember you took me to the ballot to teach me the importance of democracy just a year and a half ago”. Indeed, I conceded, it has been only 20 months. It was a complicated coalition government and its members are unable to come to agreements, I meekly offered. My teaching moment quickly escaping from under me, I suggested that our elected leaders would not possibly call another election if it could be avoided, but that we are lucky to be living in a democracy where we have the power to decide what happens next. Lucky for me – basketball practice was starting and I did not have to respond to any further queries.

Upon reflection, it became abundantly clear that the opportunity in this teaching moment will be a difficult one for our leadership to recreate credibly.

From a young age, we ask our children to get to know ‘the other’; respect ‘the other’; acknowledge the legitimacy of ‘the other’; listen to and hear the opinion of the other; collaborate and work hard to create understandings with ‘the other’. We expect our children to take responsibility for their words and actions. We hold them accountable for what they say and for what they do, at home, at school, on the playground and beyond. We tell them to remain humble, to be grateful for what they have, and to acknowledge that with privilege, comes responsibility. We insist that they look beyond the every-day challenges towards the horizon and that they set goals to work towards. We give them privileges and in return ask that they be accountable, devise a plan to attain their dreams and remain motivated along the journey.

We believe that words are not enough, so we model these behaviors for our kids. Whether we reside in Israel, Canada, the US, Europe, we do our best to illustrate the manifestations as spouses; as children; as friends; as parents; as colleagues and in every other realm that we operate. We strive to transcend the challenges; to put our egos on the shelf; to compromise; to listen actively; to do everything that is necessary; all in order to practice what we preach. After all, it is the tremendous responsibility that comes with the wonderful privilege of parenting.

At certain, often sad times, we in Israel are fortunate enough to be inspired by role models that illustrate precisely how to translate those words into action even at the most difficult moments imaginable. This last summer, facing the most devastating and horrifying reality, Rachel Fraenkel, became that inspiration for an entire country and beyond. Her son Naftali was abducted with Gil-Ad Shaer and Eyal Yifrah on June 12 by Hamas terrorists on their way home from school. Following 18 days of unifying messages repeated by Rachel Fraenkel, and prayer and hope of an entire nation, the boys’ bodies were found.

Throughout the entire grueling process, despite the unbearable uncertainty that was too difficult to imagine but not too difficult to have happened, Rachel Fraenkel paved the unbelievable path for unity and togetherness. Worried about the impact on others’ faith and hope, she told us all that “prayer is worthy, both before one’s fate is decreed and after”, but that “you cannot always change a decree”. She made a plea to each and every one of us to keep that faith, to hold on to hope, no matter the outcome of the terrible events. Even after the boys were buried, she continued to lift the spirits of all those that came to console, continued to inspire all those that would listen. Never did she allow herself the privilege of giving up on hope.

Inspired by this mothers’ plea and equipped with the sense of common purpose and unquestionable bond, Israelis and supporters of Israel throughout the globe entered the seven difficult weeks of war that ensued. Barraged by thousands of rockets, Israelis throughout the country drew the necessary strength to endure and the resiliency to go on. Intimidated by organizations run by terrorist sponsored states, some western democracies held on to their convictions in support of Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East. Threatened by peers and colleagues, supportive individuals understood that Israel was the canary in the mine and took active measures to protect its right to defend itself.

A mothers’ plea revealed the deep sense of responsibility and accountability of a grieving parent who rose to the challenge and set the tone for us all. The teaching moment was powerful and deep. It transcended perceived or real differences and encouraged all those that heard the underlying message of hope.

It has been said that “democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried”.  Western democracies, Israel among them, encourage their citizens to take an active role in voicing their approval or discontent with their leaders in multiple, acceptable, peaceful ways.  The right to vote is viewed as the ultimate manifestation of this, and with it comes great responsibility. Using this vehicle, we empower our leaders, imbuing them with privileges. Along with those privileges, our leaders are meant to feel the awesome responsibility. In Israel’s case, as the canary in the bird mine on so many issues, these responsibilities are that much more obligating. We simply cannot afford the luxury of leadership that does not take responsibility, which does not act accountably. Though it perhaps feels more acute with regard to Israel and her particular challenges, I do not think that it is a singular phenomenon. Rather, it seems that much the same can be said of leadership in Canada, the US, Europe, and other democracies around the globe.

In the midst of the turmoil and frustration surrounding this existential crisis, another mothers’ plea came to me. “We have to do something”, she said. It was a call to action, a challenge. Though unclear on what we can do, we certainly cannot accept being treated like this. We, the citizens of this democracy, like those in so many other countries, are generally honest, hard-working individuals. We pay our bills on time, help wherever we can, support our country and, in Israel’s case, send our kids to war when we must. We surely can expect more of our elected leaders. We surely deserve better. There must be something we can do.

After dropping off at basketball, I had reflected sadly on the lost teaching moment. The lost opportunity, where I could have proudly boasted that just as Rachel Fraenkel modelled incredible leadership despite tremendous hardship this last sad summer, so our elected leaders proved to be admirable role models. The lost opportunity to teach that despite their differences, real or perceived, our elected leaders illustrated the importance of working together, casting their egos aside thereby showing that they are guided only by their commitment and responsibility to those that elected them and gave them the privilege to lead. Sadly disillusioned, the potential teaching moment turned into a negative one. What did not happen, the responsibility not taken, the accountability unproved.

Beyond the lost teaching moment, it occurred to me that our leaders could perhaps return to school to learn from our children to get to know ‘the other’; respect ‘the other’; acknowledge the legitimacy of ‘the other’; listen to and hear the opinion of the other; collaborate and work hard to create understandings with ‘the other’. Perhaps they could return to school to learn to take responsibility for their words and actions. Perhaps they could return to school to be reminded that they are accountable for what they say and for what they do.

I close with another mothers’ plea. If you do not feel that deep sense of responsibility and accountability to the people that elected you, please go back to school. Please allow others who are modest enough to remember why they were elected to lead responsibly and be accountable to their words and actions. Allow us to exercise our most precious civic duty and vote only for individuals humble enough to get over themselves and remember what they are there to do. Beyond the lost teaching moments, there is simply too much as stake.

Surely we deserve that much.

About the Author
Former Member of Knesset Adv. Michal Cotler-Wunsh is head of the Nefesh B’Nefesh Institute for Aliyah Policy and Strategy.