Heart & Soul on the Home Front: “The Israeli Story”

Battalion 202 commander Lt. Col. Almog Rotem (L) and a company commander in the battalion in Jabaliya, May 22, 2024 (Lazar Berman/Times of Israel). Rotem said, “I saw the soldiers operating with determination, with professionalism, and especially with proportion.”

At the first seminar that my husband and I attended of the Rivon Harevii (“The  Fourth Quarter”) – an Israeli grassroots movement that aims, in my own words, to take the poison out of the public discourse in Israel –  there were many Milu’imnikim (IDF reservists) who’d recently come back from service in Gaza. A number of them stood up at various points in the program and spoke strongly about the unity they’d felt while they were in Gaza – the sense of shared mission and mutual trust.

“And then, I finished Milu’im and came back home,” several said, “and nothing had changed.” The “nothing” they referred to was the polarization of Israeli society, the distrust between different sectors of the population, the lack of a sense of shared destiny, the toxic and divisive public discourse.

“It’s something I can no longer accept,” one said. That statement resonated through me. On the home front, there’s so much to do; there’s a lot that needs to be changed. But Rivon Harevii activists are on the case: working to try and create the start of something new – something meaningful and beautiful – out of what, frankly, is a real mess. The document below, Hasipur Hayisraeli (“The Israeli Story”), is the result of many hours of dialogue by hundreds of individuals, in discussion groups across the country. It’s designed to address – and, perhaps, with God’s help, to begin to repair – the need for greater mutual respect and the lack of a shared vision across different sectors of society.

You can read the original Hebrew here. Any mistakes in the translation are my own.


Hasipur Hayisraeli – A Modern-Day Narrative for Our State

A document aimed to renew the Israeli Brit (“Covenant”), as we enter the fourth 25-year period of Israel’s independence.

In the spirit of Israel’s Declaration of Independence and our Jewish heritage –

In the spirit of the chain of generations, our Forefathers and Foremothers, of our obligation to future generations and to the revival and return of the nation to its land in Zion –

And with the help of the Master of the Universe:

As citizens of the State of Israel and members of the Rivon Harevii (“Fourth Quarter”) movement, we seek to tell the modern-day narrative of the State of Israel. We relay it – this story filled with tension and emotion – primarily as a complementary narrative because in sharing this story, we have but one aim: to contribute to the continued existence and prosperity of the State of Israel.

1. General Background

This year, Israel celebrated its 76th year – and thereby began the fourth 25-year period of its existence. The accomplishments of the State in this period of time are incredible, and we can all take pride in them. We reached these accomplishments together. At the same time, today we are witness to worrying signs, which serve as a warning regarding the continuation of our shared journey as a people. Israeli society suffers in recent years from a decline in social cohesion and the lack of a shared vision.

From the perspective of looking back at the last century, we currently stand at the beginning of the fourth 25-year period since the establishment of the State.

We, members of the Rivon Harevii, seek to strengthen the foundations of our collective experience and to ensure that, for the first time in history, the Jewish nation will merit celebrating a full century of independence – and will do so with a sense of looking forward  toward the centuries ahead.

In this document, we seek to propose principles for renewing the Israeli Brit (“covenant”) – a covenant that could be shared by the vast majority of Israel’s society, and in the spirit of which it should be possible to shape the Fourth Quarter together.

A covenant is not a pact, and it certainly is not an agreement or an arrangement. It does not relate to practical issues that are divisive, but rather, it aims to define the shared values and foundational principles of our society. Only through these values and principles is it appropriate to start trying to solve practical problems. A covenant is rooted in fraternity and solidarity, and it must serve as the foundation – the “infrastructure” – of our collective experience.

In Light of the Events of Simchat Torah 5784 – October 7

We are in the shadow of a traumatic event that shook our entire world. The attack on dozens of kibbutzes, communities, cities, and army bases forced us to look straight at the mighty forces of evil that try to destroy us. The terrorists and their supporters attacked everyone they found without differentiating between men and women, religious and secular, Jew and Arab, or various ethnic identities. The war that began after this attack brought with it an incredible amount of pain. But it also illustrated how alive the Israeli spirit is: There is nothing that will stand in our way when we are united – working together out of a sense of partnership and trust.

These events illustrated that Israel cannot allow itself to remain the way that it was previously. We must intensify the investment in our national security against external threats but no less so, we must heal the society from its deep polarization, which serves as our Achilles heel and led our enemies to think that we are weak and vulnerable. We must learn to be united and to work together cooperatively even when our lives are NOT threatened. This is the explicit legacy of many of those who fell in this war. It has been expressed by many of the bereaved families. We have been too tough with each other internally – and too soft externally, in preparing ourselves to face our enemies. It is time to make a change: to show flexibility and softness internally, and a tough strength when dealing with our external enemies. We don’t expect any individual group to give up its identity and values; rather, we seek to strengthen Israel’s social cohesion and the common denominators, despite the significant differences that exist within Israeli society.

The Process for Developing This Document

This document is the work of hundreds of Israelis of every kind – every group and background that lives in Israel.

It has not been prepared by specialists or public figures but by regular people, members of our movement, who invested time and effort, thought and discussion, in an effort to evaluate, together: What would be the broadest possible characterization that would allow the greatest number of Israelis to be covered by it? What is the Tallit (“prayer shawl”) that the greatest number of us can be covered by?

In the course of the discussions, many points of disagreement were mapped out – but that isn’t new. What is new, is that despite the incredible diversity that exists within Israeli society, it is possible to reach agreement on the core issues related to our collective existence, when working from a place of mutual trust between the different groups that make up the society and employing a generosity of spirit. We believe that the journey of searching for practical solutions must start with fundamental assumptions of cooperation, mutual trust, and collective responsibility.

We invite you to read this document. What it brings to the table, its innovation, is not only its details but, primarily, the fact that it is being shared as a single, cohesive unit.

A Few Words About the Concepts that We Seek to Deal with in This Document

The State of Israel was established as a Jewish state – to serve as a national home for the Jewish nation in its historic homeland. It is a democratic country, whose democratic values have been woven into it from the moment of its inception and continuing today. It is the fulfillment of the belief in nationalism and the activist approach that characterized the Zionist movement. It includes minority groups, first and foremost its Arab citizens; the challenge of fully integrating them within the country is yet to be resolved. All citizens of Israel hold shared responsibility for our collective existence in the State of Israel. In light of what happened to us recently, we are convinced that, right now, we must be fully focused on harnessing the mighty power of choosing life.

In light of these fundamental principles, we seek to facilitate a deep change in Israeli society. To shift it from being a society of submission, in which different groups seek to subjugate the others, to a society of welcoming guests – in which we are all both hosts and guests, who want to feel a sense of belonging and partnership and, simultaneously are concerned that others feel the same way. We want to transform the atmosphere of tribalism and divisiveness into an atmosphere of humility, attentiveness, and comradery between the different groups and their leaders. We want to shift from being a society in which many groups feel that their most fundamental beliefs and way of life are threatened, to a society in which we can all feel confident in our identity and a sense of belonging; and in which we can make our own contributions – each of us coming from our own, unique worlds – to society as a whole.

2. Israel as a Jewish State

The Jewish “chain of generations” has been continuing for thousands of years, and the State of Israel is an important link in this chain. Our ancient nation has a shared history and destiny, and also a shared mission – to be an exemplary country, a light unto the nations, and to participate in fulfilling the lofty ideal of Tikkun Olam (“bringing repair to the world”), as per the teachings of the prophets of Israel.

Hebrew, the ancient language that has been revived, is the language of the Jewish people, and its revival is wonderous and must be preserved.  The Jewish calendar and the Jewish lifecycle are expressions of the Jewish foundations of the State, and they should be represented in the public life of Israel. Shabbat (“Sabbath”) is the day of rest for the State of Israel, and it should be felt in the public sphere throughout the State.

The State of Israel has an obligation to the entire Jewish nation. This obligation includes concern for strengthening the connection of Jews of the Diaspora to the Jewish nation and the State of Israel, and strengthening the connection of citizens of Israel to their brothers and sisters in exile.

The Jewish State has ethical and legal obligations to all minorities that live in Israel. Members of minority groups are citizens of equal status and their communities are incorporated into the Israeli mosaic. This is an obligation that is founded on Jewish tradition, as well as on the lessons learned from Jewish history.

“Know from where you come” [Pirkei Avot 3:1 – AI] – One of the educational goals of the State of Israel should be the recognition of Jewish heritage – in each community, according to its own character and beliefs. This heritage includes the “Jewish bookshelf,” Jewish history, and the full scope of spiritual treasures of the nation, which include religion and culture, art and literature.

The State of Israel should be a leading spiritual-Jewish center. The State is the natural home of the world of Torah and of Jewish faith, which served as a central component in protecting the existence of the Jewish nation throughout thousands of years of exile. The State is the place in which the value of studying Torah is incorporated as a natural aspect of the fundamental values of the State. And it is the place in which it is most natural to develop and focus on Jewish culture of all kinds.

Even in ancient times, the Jewish nation was made up of different tribes, each of which had its own character. Diversity within the Jewish nation is the ideal, because the differences between different sectors contributes to the enrichment of the whole – as long as, alongside the development of each group’s unique characteristics, there is also an emphasis on the common denominators shared by all of us.

Mutual responsibility is one of the greatest historic attributes of the Jewish nation. It is expressed both as an inherent part of the community life of our different groups, and in the bond between them. Mutual responsibility must be a fundamental value in Israel’s way of life:  both in terms of there being mutual responsibility among all citizens of the State; and in terms of there being mutual responsibility between the State and Diaspora Jewry.

3. Israeli Democracy

Israel is a liberal democracy, meaning that Israel is democratic in its mode of government and that it shares values with other democratic societies, including the values of equality, liberty, freedom of expression, human dignity, and human rights. Citizens of Israel have basic rights that cannot be ignored.

The Israeli democracy should have a clear separation of powers and maintain a system of checks and balances between different branches of government.

The Knesset (“Parliament”), members of whom are elected in free elections, is the authoritative body in the State of Israel – and its status should be strengthened. Aside from its role as the legislative branch of government and in overseeing the actions of the executive branch of government, the eyes of the public turn toward it. Therefore, it is expected that its members will act honestly and ethically, and that they serve as role models for the citizens of the State.

The executive branch of government is created by means of the determination of the majority but while simultaneously maintaining the rights of the minority, and through continual dialog with the minority. The government will act to benefit all of Israel’s citizens, and its highest priority will be their security and welfare.

The principle of representation and the principle of statehood complement each other. Elected officials should serve as representatives for those who voted for them. Alongside this, all those who fill a public role in the State of Israel must view the good of all citizens of the State as their first and highest obligation.

The greatest democratic test for the minority group is accepting the will of the majority. The greatest democratic test for the majority group is ensuring that the voice of the minority will also be heard and will also have an influence. Organized changes in government, which take place with good will and with appropriate professional overlap for the individuals in various roles, is a sign of a healthy, functioning democracy.

It is obvious that it’s not enough to legislate laws; one also needs to enforce them. Therefore, law enforcement and governance are cornerstones of Israeli democracy.

A strong, independent system of justice is one of the key signs of a healthy democracy. The system of justice must be committed to protecting the laws of the State, while maintaining loyalty to its fundamental values. The Supreme Court plays an essential role, among other things, in defending the rights of the individual and protecting the rights of different minority groups. To fulfill its crucial role, it is important that its members be ethical, professional, and diverse. The Supreme Court should serve as a home for all the groups that compose Israeli society.

A key aspect of a democratic country is having a public service that is professional, official, diverse, and committed to implementing the policy of the elected government – while continuing to enforce and carefully follow the law and appropriate public behavior.

It is important to act to strengthen the unmediated recognition and trust between different groups that compose the Israeli population. All children in Israel should be educated toward having tolerance for others.

It is important to act to strengthen the degree of participation in democratic processes, across all groups and sectors, and to deepen awareness regarding the importance of democracy in the State of Israel.

Innovation in technology should be used to increase public participation in processes related to any significant decisions that will have an impact on the public.

Empowering regional and local areas will contribute to strengthening the democratic foundations of the State, in that it will allow citizens greater control over their lives and greater involvement in decision-making. The expression of specific values by local communities should be supported; the goal should be to manage tensions between different sets of values, in ways that allow everyone to find expression as part of a whole.

4. Zionism in Israel

The State of Israel is the fulfillment of the Zionist ideal, and it is the Homeland of the Jewish people. Alongside its being a necessity for our survival, the process of the return of the Jewish nation to its land is the fulfillment of prayers and longings for two thousand years, prayers for Kibbutz Galuyot (“The Ingathering of the Exiles”). Zionism is founded on a worldview that emphasizes taking initiative and continuously preparing for the future.

Fundamental values that emerge from Israel’s Zionist character include, among others: encouraging and absorbing Aliyah (“immigration”); a love of the land; working the land; contributing to the State; developing and settling the land; and protecting the environment and preserving our natural resources, for future generations.

The State of Israel should foster Zionist education – both within Israel and in the Jewish communities outside of Israel.

The terrible attack that we suffered on Simchat Torah, on October 7, proved the necessity of strengthening Israel’s periphery by strengthening our agriculture. Agriculture holds an important place in Zionist tradition. Strengthening agriculture is also important for the purpose of having independent food production capabilities, and as an expression of the living and tangible connection between the nation and its land.

The Zionist movement aspired to establish an ethical, thriving state. The State of Israel should strive to be “ahead of the pack” – acting as a moral compass for the world – and to be among the countries that illustrate the difference between light and darkness, and between good and evil. Israel should aim to reflect the values of Gemilut Hassadim (“charity”), social cohesion, and solidarity. It should strive to be counted among the leading countries of the world both in the ethical realm and in areas connected to science and technology, higher education, and quality of life – to hold an honorable place in the international community.

Zionism is not just a historic movement but also is future-facing. Therefore, we should look at the resolution of certain challenges that have come our way today, as part of to Zionism. The fostering of excellence, granting of equal opportunities, fairness, and the creation of opportunities for social mobility – all of these are part of fulfilling Zionism in our time. Reducing the gaps between the center of Israel and its social and geographic periphery is also a Zionist challenge, as is improving transportation, personal security, health, housing, and quality of life throughout the country, so that Israel will continue to be attractive to its citizens and to potential Olim (“immigrants”).

It is natural that in a diverse country like Israel, the degree of identification with Zionism will range from one group to the next, among the citizens of the State. Alongside this, all citizens of the State should show respect to the symbols of the State, its institutions, its representatives, and its laws.

The State of Israel seeks peace with all its neighbors and aims to end the Israeli-Arab conflict. Extending an arm in peace is not dependent on one or the other political plan, or in planning to reach peace agreements in a given time frame, but is an independent value and is part of the Israeli and Jewish identity, as per the vision of the prophets of Israel, and as per the text of the Mishnah: “The Holy One Blessed Be He did not find a vessel that holds blessings for Israel other than peace.”  [Tractate Oktzin, Chapter 3, Mishnah 12 – AI.]

An equal, fair, and upright attitude toward all Arab citizens of Israel, as well as citizens belonging to Israel’s other minority groups, is a clear reflection of the values of Zionism as expressed by different types of Zionist thinkers – and is a reflection of the Jewish tradition and of Israel’s Declaration of Independence.

5. Arab Society in Israel

Arab citizens of Israel are a large and significant part of the population of the State of Israel – equal citizens, and a community with its own collective characteristics, including its own history, culture, language, and religion. These characteristics must be reflected in the community’s educational institutions, municipal government, and civilian society – together with reflecting commitment to the values of the State of Israel as a whole.

The integration of the Arab citizens as part of the texture of life in Israel – in terms of personal security, welfare, and a feeling of belonging – is one of the tasks of our generation. The responsibility for this should be jointly held by both the Jewish majority and by Arab society.

It is important that all Israeli citizens are familiar with the story of the Arab society, its rich cultural heritage, its characteristics and its pain. It is important to work toward the recognition of the Arabic language and the Arab society in Jewish schools – in a broad manner, and from a young age. Likewise, it is important to work toward recognition of the Hebrew language and the Jewish society throughout the Arab sector. Fulfilling the fundamental rights of members of Arab society and their safety – including the right to personal safety and to living with respect, and developing advanced solutions in the areas of health, transportation, employment, and housing – are not just internal issues for Arab society, but are part of the ethical and practical responsibility of all of Israeli society.

Alongside full equality of rights, including participation in institutions of government, the State should strive for full participation of Israeli Arabs in fulfilling their obligations and contributing to the State, and should establish suitable frameworks that can contribute to the fulfillment of this goal in a way that is suitable to the culture and values of the Arab public.

The Arab citizens have a historic and ethnic connection to the broader Arab people, and in this way, they can play a key role in creating a bridge of peace and mutual respect between Israel and its Arab neighbors.

6. Collective Responsibility

We have collective responsibility for the existence and success of the State. For those who feel responsibility only to their own group: Be aware that if life in Israel is good for your group but not for other groups – it won’t end up being good for your group, either. We each need to see people of all groups and sectors (even those that are far from our own conceptual or practical world) as partners in fulfilling this area of responsibility and paving a way to live together, out of a sense of mutual respect and trust.

Based on the foundation of collective responsibility, it emerges that no group in the Israeli population is just a “guest” or a “host” but rather that Israel is a shared home for all of us. All citizens of Israel have responsibility for the existence and advancement of Israeli society, in all its fundamental aspects. Collective responsibility should be expressed in four circles: personal, communal, regional, and political/national.

Recognition of the different communities in Israeli society, each with its own beliefs, values, and culture,  should serve as a basis for deepening our collective responsibility for life in the State of Israel.

It is important to strengthen the connection between privileges and obligations, in all areas – first and foremost, in the area of awareness and education. Protecting Israel’s security is a privilege – this comes first, preceding the fact that it is also a burden. The first step toward having an equal sharing of the military and civilian burden is simply participating in the burden, as stated by the Sages of Israel who praised those “Who carry the burden together with their friend.” Alongside the IDF draft, we should also be expanding other types of lifesaving services including the range of search and rescue teams, the National Fire and Rescue Authority, and the Israel Police. If, in the past, the public discourse surrounding this issue focused primarily on the issues of fairness and equality – in light of the lessons learned from October 7, the issue must be approached differently, as a real and concrete need and as a matter of Pikuach Nefesh (“Saving a Life” as mandated by Jewish law). Participating in the security burden is an expression of the mutual responsibility that should be shared by all citizens of the State.

We must give credit and show gratitude, in our attitude and our deeds, to those who take on themselves a notably large role in carrying the burden of our shared responsibility – such as our soldiers, the men and women who are in Milu’im (“reserve duty”) or are volunteers in organizations that devote their time to public service.

7. Harnessing the Incredible Power of Choosing Life

Our beloved Israel experienced a collective trauma – in the form of a bloody attack, shocking in its cruelty and in the number of victims, as well as through the war that broke out in its wake, in which we lost so many lives. When the war ends, we will need to start a new era. We will channel the incredible powers that exist within Israeli society to the horizons of growth and prosperity, and we will dedicate ourselves for years to the renewed development of Israel. This development will preserve all the good that was built here in the first 76 years of the State, and we will add to it new levels of values, justice, innovation, and closing gaps, alongside learning a new language and the optimism of seeing each other with a generosity of spirit.

We are not afraid of disagreements. To the contrary, disagreement L’Shem Shamayim (“for the sake of Heaven”) is one of the foundations that allowed the existence and prosperity of the Jewish nation throughout the generations. It’s impossible to escape disagreements. Instead, we need to learn how to manage them, leaning on Jewish heritage and on our historic experience.

We can envision governments that enjoy a broad base of support – both in the Knesset, and by the public; and that bring together the best in us – our different and diverse capabilities, across Israeli society. We envision governments that act out of a sense of deep mission, and clear understanding that their mission is to serve the citizens of the State, and that the size and make-up of their ministries will be established based on the needs of the State. Governments whose ministers serve as examples of truth and honesty, who act for the benefit of all citizens of the State. We believe that it is in our reach to cultivate and improve the public sector in Israel and to bring it to the level of leadership at a worldwide level, and to a point where it enjoys a high level of trust by Israeli citizens – following policies set by the elected leadership while also preserving its professionalism, continuity and stateliness.

We believe that adopting the path that we worked to outline in this document will breathe a new spirit into the State of Israel.

This document can serve as a basis for renewed cooperation and partnership between all sectors of Israeli society. It aims to allow all groups and sectors to feel a sense of belonging, and that they are desired partners in the Israeli narrative.

It is the nature of things that all of us – each according to his or her own system of values – will find  parts of this document that we identify with more, and parts that we identify with less. At the same time, we hope that you will judge the document as a whole, as something that seeks to find a balance between the multiple values that lie at the basis of our lives.

Out of a sense of faith in the Rock of Israel, we believe that the values and aspirations that are encompassed in this document can serve as a compass, as a horizon – and can fortify us to move confidently ahead into the Rivon Harevii, the fourth 25-year period of our independence.

You can read the original Hebrew here.

This blog post was written with prayers for the safety of our Chayalim, the speedy and safe return of all the hostages, and the return of those evacuated to their homes.

All opinions expressed here are my own and have not been reviewed or approved by the leadership of the Rivon Harevii.

About the Author
Aliza Israel made Aliyah 30 years ago from the US. A marketing writer for the technology sector, she lives in Alon Shvut with her husband Alex and their children.
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