Facing challenges 25 years after Rabin’s assassination, and today, with COVID-19

This year, as an educator, I have a heightened sense of responsibility because we are living in times of crisis and difficulty. Our world fell apart in one fell swoop with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. In confronting this, crisis, I believe that education plays an essential role in building resilience for our students, and for society.

We have just marked the 25th anniversary of the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, an event that shook Israeli society and deeply wounded it. This cataclysmic event challenged Israeli democracy and widened the chasm that had already existed along political, religious, ethnic and economic lines. Marking Rabin’s death opens up possibilities for all of us, to examine our role in instilling democratic and pluralistic values in Israeli society.

The coronavirus will pass. I hope we can preserve the many lessons we have learned along the way. However, we must not forget the deep challenges facing Israeli society. We must remember that only a democratic society that upholds justice and equality can exist as a free society over time.  Therefore, precisely in these tumultuous days, we must strengthen commitment, desire, responsibility and skills to do Tikkun Olam (repair the world).

My choice in becoming an educator and rabbi was grounded in the Jewish and Zionist values that set before us the ideal of Israel becoming an exemplary society based on pluralism and equality. “These and these are the words of the living God” (Babylonian Talmud Eruvin 13b:10-14), “Seventy Faces of Torah” (Numbers Rabbah 13:15-16), and “The State of Israel  will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex… ” (Israel’s Proclamation of Independence).

Jews, Arabs, Bedouins Druze, Circassians, and other national minorities live together in Israel. This is a constant challenge. Delicate and complex. Its resolution is sensitive and not obvious. Our destinies are bound together. We must cultivate sensitivity and create relationships based on acceptance, and shared living. Creating these positive connections is an exciting and empowering experience.  Walking this path is neither simple nor easy, but we prove every day that it is possible.

The Leo Baeck Education Center, an institution operating in the spirit of liberal Judaism for eighty-two years, is special because it comprises within it the multicultural human mosaic that exists in Haifa – Jews, Arab, Christians, Muslims, Druze and Baha’i. However, it is not enough for us, just to get along with each other. We celebrate our differences, and thus we grow and flourish as an educational community. We educate our students that the most significant indication of the strength of our Jewish identity is how our non-Jewish neighbors feel among us, or in biblical language, are they really “as citizens amongst us” (see Leviticus 19:34). It is hard work. A concentrated effort must be invested so that non-Jewish citizens feel at home in Israel. I believe it is possible; it is everyone’s responsibility, especially the Jews in Israel.

Twenty-five years after the horrific murder of our Israeli prime minister, and in the midst of a global health and economic crisis, it is our duty to serve as role models, and show what an exemplary society could be. Moreover, we must continue to fight to preserve the values ​​that are the foundations of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. That would be the answer worthy of this unforgivable murder.

About the Author
Rabbi Ofek Meir, Headmaster and Managing Director of the Leo Baeck Education Center. Also served as the Director of the Israeli Rabbinical Program at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Jerusalem, from which he was ordained and earned a master’s degree in Jewish education. He also holds a musician’s degree in classical guitar from the Royal College of Music in London.
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