Zelda Harris
Five on the 100 aliyah from UK list!

Are we selfish?

From the dictionary:
1.a person or thing referred to with respect to complete individuality: one’s own self.

2.a person’s nature, character, etc.his better self.

3.personal interest.

Her name was Kinereth Gensler, daughter of the late Professor Alexander Dushkin founder of the Hebrew University’s School of Education in 1949.

Prof. Dushkin, who was awarded the Israel Prize for Education in 1968, exerted a profound influence on the modernization of Jewish education in both the USA and in Israel. He was also Saba Alex to my children, as we were neighbours during their formative years.

Kinereth was also sister to the late Professor Avima Lombard.

Avima, who was my close friend and guru, was a powerful advocate for early childhood education. She promoted the highly acclaimed Israeli educational program known worldwide as HIPPY, Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters. HIPPY was designed to assist at-risk parents to become the first educators of their children and to prepare them for success in school and beyond. Launched in 1968 from NCJW’s Research Institute for Innovation in Education at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, HIPPY now numbers more than 250 programs in countries across the globe, including the USA.

Kinereth was an acclaimed poet. A master of understated poems and brilliant short prose memoirs. Her book”Journey Fruit “tells of a lifetime’s travel (‘an orange is the perfect journey fruit’). Kinereth Gensler spent her 1930’s childhood winters in Jerusalem and summers in Maine.

She was”one who understood the potential of human beings” quote.

It was during a discussion about whether one can take comfort in being selfish that she said to me “You have to be aware of yourself and your personal needs and aspirations otherwise one is not complete.To say “I have been so selfish is not acceptable”.

I have never forgotten those words because I always thought that leaving my mother and twice uprooting my kids to return to Israel, was the embodiment of selfishness. I also was taken aback when in a class I attended at the “City Lit” in Drury Lane during our stay in the UK in the 70’s, the facilitator said to me “You have lost the id.” I didn’t know what the”id” was, I had to go home and look it up. She was right in a way because I was busy looking after a business which was demanding and a sick husband and three kids whom I had “shlepped” back to London when all our resources had run dry in Israel. Not just the financial ones I am sorry to say.

I functioned well because I had a wonderfully supportive mother who not only helped us in every way possible but also insisted that I find interests outside of my personal family life. She maintained that would create a balance.

So self, is not selfish but aware of self and one’s inner needs?

Is that what Kineret meant?

Shavuot is a time for reflection as is Yom Kippur. Maybe it’s easier to contemplate and ask forgiveness on an empty stomach and not after a great feast.It’s also a time of respect for the one who comes to another land and will live among those who will not naturally be empathetic or welcoming. It’s also a time when again, women come to the fore.

We, mothers, do not know if by our destiny we will have created, a royal dynasty, Nobel prize winner or merely, fulfilled happy and productive descendants.Those who will carry forth or get comfort from the examples of the courage and also the suffering of their forebears

My mother did a good job on me. I like to believe that both my beloved late husband (who unfortunately did not have a mother like mine) and I passed on those values in which we strongly believed, to our boys, including love for the State of Israel and identity with Judaism. Above all love of fellow human beings.

Today I am chilled by the growing doubt I have about this generation.Their race against time, self-interest which allows them to say”I just haven’t got time’.Those on the bottom rung are just surviving we know. Even in a democratic and seemingly equal society there are the haves and have nots and that really should be unacceptable.

We can call it apathy, indifference, ignorance, or is this selfishness.?

Where will it lead?

Can we abandon all responsibility for what is happening around us in a land that we all chose to be in?

Those who want change are branded by pejoratives.

Those who feel that everything is in order, who are not inclined to remonstrate, are they selfish or merely too weak to stand up in case it will make things worse?

Those who really are suffering whether economically or through the ineptitude of the various government bodies and the controlling of people’s thought and attitudes are not selfish, they feel powerless.

So those of you who seemingly have financial security(despite the rat race) is there some inner happiness that is unsatisfied and can only be dealt with by running faster.By finding more and more distraction abroad and pleasure and luxuries internally too, to satisfy the disquiet and anxiety that one cannot honestly ignore.

This too is passed on to your children they are our future but you gave them life so their future well-being is up to you at the end of the day.

So selfish/self-interest and self-determination and self-confidence are all good slogans and ideals, but the other self, the conscience, the doubts the vulnerability are also what makes us human beings.

To have been in Rabin Square last Shabbat was moving for one reason. The crowd was just simply people who all want to remain on this precious land and to put an end to the conflict between us and the Palestinians. The number of young people and those who brought their small kids to the “village square” the place to gather, was staggering.

This I will call unselfish in the extreme. Just being there without noisy demonstration or violent, hysterical behaviour. Just being together in spirit. I felt privileged.

I wonder what the extraordinary Dushkin family would have felt?

About the Author
Zelda Harris first came to Israel 1949, aged 18. After living through the hardships of the nascent state, she returned to England in 1966. She was a founding member of the Women's Campaign for Soviet Jewry. In 1978, she returned with her family to Israel and has been active in various spheres of Israeli Society since. Together with the late Chaim Herzog, she founded CCC for Electoral Reform, was the Director of BIPAC in Israel, and a co-founder of Metuna, the Organisation for Road Safety, which received the Speaker of Knesset Quality of Life Award for saving lives on the roads and prevention of serious injury. She is now a peace activist, blogger for Times of Israel and is writing her life story.