Mazal tov, Congratulations to Israel on the recent birth of the Opposition. It is alive and kicking, is spoken about and has a public presence. In the past month, Avi Gabay hit the headlines four times. On the first occasion the Labor party chairman said that he would not sit in the same government as the Joint (Arab) List: “I do not see anything we have in common with them,” and caused a mini-uproar on the Left. Then he stated in an interview that he would not evacuate settlements in a peace agreement. “If there is peace, then why evacuate? The dynamics of peacemaking that would require evacuation may not actually be correct. In a peace agreement, solutions can be found that do not require evacuations,” and another uproar ensued.
On the third occasion he began his faction’s meeting by criticizing the government and talked about his Moroccan grandmother: “My grandmother did not study at M.I.T but she would have called this is a ‘hashuma’, which means shame in Moroccan. There are things one just doesn’t do.” Both the ethnic genie and the satirical genre were reawakened. Gabay reached new heights this week when he quoted Netanyahu’s comment “The Left have forgotten what it means to be Jews” and made the point even more forcefully. At the time, Netanyahu whispered to Rav Kaduri that the Left had forgotten what it means to be Jews, because they would abandon Israel’s security to the Arabs. Gabay was referring to another aspect, that of forgetting Jewish identity and tradition. Addressing students at Ben Gurion University, he said: “We are Jews and we do need to speak about our Jewish values. I tell you, on my honor, Jewish values are the basis of all the generations that arose. Where did it all begin? It all began with our Torah and our halakha (religious laws) and our basics. It all starts there.” Those on the Left of Gabay shouted ‘hashuma’ at him and those on the Right and Center listened attentively.
What issues did Gabay raise? Arabs, right-wing sentiments, ethnicity and Judaism. Assuming that his media advisors are responsible for his comments, they have indeed pinpointed the most pressing issues in the Israeli potpourri and included them in the list of themes he raises. And he sounds credible. When Yair Lapid tried to appeal to the Center and traditionalists he was widely criticized. Gabay comes across more naturally. Another advantage is that he has touched upon core issues. These are varied and important. What a welcome relief from the critical issue that was the number one headline: How many hours did Shira Raban actually work during October at the house in Balfour Street?
So you think that “A Light to the Nations” is a vague, amorphous concept? Well, here are two events in which Israel spread the light to other parts of the world and you probably didn’t hear about them:
The pre-army academies have already been awarded the Israel Prize for their achievements. More than twenty such academies exist throughout Israel which attract all the different sectors of society. Every year, 12th grade graduates who may have been bored and wasted their last year of school join these academies and suddenly reinvent themselves. They get up early in the morning to study and volunteer and they busy themselves building their internal world from morning till the middle of the night. And when they leave, they begin their adult life as different people. Now the time has come to export this educational start-up. Erez Eshel who was one of the first people to develop this model in Israel elaborates. “In a meeting with the President of Ukraine he told us that if he would have a few hundred youngsters going through a similar program, his country would thrive. We rose to the challenge and are setting up a series of Ukrainian academies. They are called ‘Leadership Academies’ and five are already operational. It occurred to me that for two thousand years the Jews asked for help, and no one came to their assistance. Now that we are strong, why should we not help others?”
Hananel Shklar, the head of the pre-army academy in Yeruham recently returned from the academy in Poltava in eastern Ukraine. He says that: “We sometimes forget just how much we have to offer to the world in terms of pointing a moral compass. We are creating a young and active leadership cadre in the Ukraine who will propel the entire country to new heights. The slogan of the academies is: ‘Create yourself, create Ukraine.’ Their main focus is on identity. They dig down deeply and study a wide range of topics in order to create a national and democratic identity. This is easy to do in Israel because of our long history, stretching back thousands of years. When I was there, I understood how much we take our cultural and historical richness for granted. Over there, they have to work hard.” A delegation of 250 Ukrainians will arrive in Israel this week and will go in small groups to 40 different academies to study their method first-hand.
In another newsworthy event, Rabbi Dr. Yakov Nagen recently returned from a visit to China as an emissary of the ‘Shofar Zion’ organization which aims to disseminate Judaism in China. Apparently, there is a great thirst for our ancient wisdom over there. Nagen gave a series of lectures in Beijing and Shanghai and taught Talmud, as well as the writings of Rav Kook and Rabbi Nahman of Breslav. On his return to Israel, Rabbi Nagen sent his students at the Otniel Yeshiva a summary of his visit: “I am but a small link in a meaningful story, in the question of our role in the great story of the human race. My Chinese audiences listened attentively to my lectures on the Torah, and I wondered to what extent we manage to live up to those Jewish values so deeply admired by them. Do we fulfill the role we have been assigned, to bring blessing to the human race? We are charged with doing so, and it entails many obligations, not just rights. I feel that the Chinese people do not look at how we actually behave, but how we ought to behave. Perhaps the fact that they are observing us, will spur us on to correcting ourselves? We usually think that this betterment only occurs when a person takes a long hard look inward at himself, but sometimes it works differently. The wish to better ourselves arises when we understand how the world sees us.”