Marc Overbeck
Relapsed government relations practitioner, emerging poet, committed Reconstructionist Jew

A Precious Crack in the Wall of Entitlement

To steal from Charles Dickinson’s opening in A Tale of Two Cities but to say it differently: “It was the worst of times, it was the best of times.”

The week in Israel began with the unilateral passing of legislation that weakened the role of the judiciary in providing checks on the executive by the 64-member right-wing coalition government, with all other members boycotting the vote in protest.

It ended with statements from culture minister Miki Zohar and MK member Eli Dallal indicating they would not support further unilateral judicial legislation, and reports of members of the Likud Party exploring conversations for a unity government with opposition parties.

My first thought when I read Dallal’s statement about him not paying attention to what he was voting on and pledging he wouldn’t do that in the future was “yeah, right”.  To me, it smacked of yet another politician covering their backside, and pledging that they will do the right thing LATER.  We’ve all heard this before.

But after reflecting, I realized that THIS could in fact, represent the moment we are waiting for.

THIS could be what all of the protests were for:  For one, precious crack in the wall of the entitlement of ignoring the promise of the founding of the nation as a Jewish, democratic state and the popular will of its citizens.

We have arrived at place we have because people who have views antithetical to the character of the founding of the state have been allowed to be leaders in the governmental coalition, and then offered the chance to hold the coalition hostage if their views were not put into reality.  They include, in particular, ultra-Orthodox members of the Knesset who seek to impose their religious views on the entire population, and those who reject the promise of a pluralistic society on the pretense of security concerns.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews are welcome to their expression of being Jewish.  And, regardless of our own beliefs or disbelief—regardless of our level of observance or non-observance—we should honor their right to have, express and live those beliefs.  And, we can also recognize that this cohort within the larger community of Jewish peoplehood was never the source of the founding of the State of Israel.  The Jewish state was the dream of Jews who were largely secular, and committed after centuries of persecution, harassment, violence, and even forced conversion, that there be a place in the world where Jews could be free from that experience.

So, what does it look like to honor THAT commitment?

  • It doesn’t look like forcing other Jews and non-Jews to a standard that conforms to their personal beliefs around Halacha.
  • It doesn’t look like debasing fellow Jews as well as non-Jews for being idolators
  • It doesn’t look like calling Palestinians “animals”.

Mordechai Kaplan, the founder of Reconstructionism, wrote:  “It is not the seeking after God that divides but the claim to have found God and to have discovered the only proper way of obeying God and communing with God.”

We can decide to live like this past week was “just another week”, and spend our time and energy fretting about the future, or we can declare that this end of the week provided a real opening for a return to the roots of Israel’s founding:  a vibrant, inclusive, and communitarian society—and lean in to act in accordance with that possibility.

For sure, there are many people opposed to a Jewish state in the Levant.  There are people laboring under a fanatical notion that Jews will be expelled from the land through violent struggle.  There are people teaching others to hate Jews.  And, antisemitic expression is prolific on the internet.

We should not ignore these facts, however, we should not let them be a barrier to expressing a commitment to a secure Israel that is true to the ideals of its founding, and to acting on that commitment.

The opportunity coming into a new week, is for Jews and non-Jews alike to treat this week as if it was April 1948—that the world is on the precipice of something that is honorable, that has the spirit of rectifying a historic injustice; and that it’s not predictable that it will turn out.

Israel remaining a Jewish, democratic state is not predictable.  Let’s not kid ourselves.  The situation in Israel is occurring inside a larger political environment in which governments around the world have turned away from democratic institutions toward authoritarianism.  Authoritarianism is far more efficient than democracy.  It’s easier.  It takes almost nothing for citizens to let the government dictate the rules of society according to the whims of those in power.  Authoritarianism requires no responsibility on the part of citizens.

But the slide to authoritarianism, ethno-nationalism, and theocratic purity, while predictable, is not certain. Our politics—and perhaps our human nature, makes it likely that we will turn away from what’s challenging in creating a society that works for everyone.  We can succumb to what has been predictable in politics, or we can generate the courage to speak out for what people and society can be, and take this moment to act, to support, to affirm, to speak a vision.

Authoritarianism is dependent on people not speaking up around their vision of what’s possible, and relies on fear to keep us small, mistrusting, and resentful.

Regardless of what’s behind the pronouncements of Zohar and Dallal, we should embrace them.  We can take them and fan the embers of those words to make it easier for more and more members of the government—and more Jews and non-Jews—to get on board for the Israel that was the ideal for our ancestors.

The world may be modern—but the yearnings, hopes, aspirations of the Jewish people to live free are not.  The circumstances we find ourselves in—bickering amongst one another, finding our way to exist in the midst of people who occur as hostile to us, etc. may actually not be new.  But we can act newly on them.

The promise of Zionism as envisioned by Herzl and others is the promise of a democratic society where Jews could have a place to exist free from persecution, violence and victimization.  The experiment of whether a state could provide security for people without becoming ethno-nationalist and abandoning its democratic foundations is still underway after 75 years of statehood.  Zionism is not ordinary.

This week is an extraordinary opportunity for Zionism to be acted on as “a light to the nations”; and an example for people yearning for democracy, community, and security.

May we look back 75 years from now, and be able to reflect on “the Israeli Summer” as a moment in history where people stood up for democracy and the best of humanity triumphing over fear, resentment and isolation.

About the Author
Marc Overbeck has been a member of Reconstructing Judaism’s Board of Governors since October 2020, and twice served as president of Temple Beth Sholom in Salem, Ore, where he lives with his wife Deb. Marc earned his bachelor’s degree in political science and philosophy from Willamette University and also studied at Birkbeck College, University of London, where he served as a Hansard Scholar and research assistant for former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
Related Topics
Related Posts