Horizon of Hope
These are difficult times for Israel’s dreamers. It’s hard to believe in our dreams when the political situation in Israel is so dire.
But despondent as we are, abandoning our dreams is not an option, so I sought advice from Jonathan Kessler, founder and CEO of Heart of a Nation, a Washington-based organization that works to empower American, Israeli, and Palestinian emerging change makers. (Since 2021, I have served on Heart of a Nation’s Advisory Committee.)
An incorrigible optimist despite his decades on the barricades, Kessler is far from naïve. He has spent his entire professional career engaged with Israel and the Arab World, operating at the nexus of politics and advocacy, and conflict resolution.
Kessler acknowledged that this is a moment fraught with danger but also a time of enormous opportunity. “There is no progress without tension and stress,” he said. “The exposure of Israel’s political fault lines was both inevitable and necessary in its struggle to define its future.”
“Approaching its 75th anniversary, Israel is still a young country,” Kessler noted. “America at 75 was a mess. It had no final borders, no distinct national identity, was slaughtering its indigenous population, at war with its neighbors, buying and selling human beings, and women had no rights at all. This was ‘a shining city on a hill’ and ‘the last best hope for mankind?’
“Even with its enormous challenges, Israel is still better positioned, with greater human capital and promise than America was at the same age.”
Israel might be better positioned than America was at this time in its history, but America needed a bloody civil war to resolve its most profound national crisis. Things could have turned out far worse if not for the extraordinary leadership of Abraham Lincoln. Can we count on a Lincoln arising in Israel? Kessler takes nothing for granted, which is why his organization has decided to launch Horizon of Hope International Leadership Academy to train young change makers.
It’s hard to avoid a feeling of hopelessness living in America and watching Israel undergo an existential crisis. However, Kessler believes that this is a once-in-a-generation moment for Jewish Americans and other friends of Israel to “lean in.” From his perspective, “this is not a time for ‘quiet quitting.’ This is a time to engage more, to partner with those in Israel seeking to defend democracy, to protect Israel’s economy, to expand the rights of minorities, and resume efforts at conflict resolution and peace-building.”
Kessler views today’s events as a “unique teachable moment” for Diaspora Jewry: a perfect opportunity to learn about the Israeli Declaration of Independence, the Basic Laws of the state, and the role of the Israeli Supreme Court.
“Israelis and American Jews – especially young people – have a chance to be part of Israeli and Jewish history; to be full partners in the ongoing creation of what Israel is to be,” says Kessler.
Kessler has no doubt that “Israel will survive this crisis. Democracies with engaged populations are far more resilient than they sometimes appear.”
Kessler then paused and shared with me the following: “In 1972, when America was deeply divided, the poet Archibald MacLeish was quoted in my hometown newspaper as saying, ‘We are neither weak nor few.’ The article went on: ‘To believe that nothing we do matters, that there are no changes to bring about, no policies to affect, no programs to alter, no new purposes to propose, no lives to make better… to believe that is to disbelieve what democracy is all about.’” I wondered how Kessler remembered that quote. “I didn’t memorize it,” he explained. “I cut it out and kept it close for a time such as this.”
And what about our dissatisfaction with Israel’s current leaders and policies? Kessler answered that “it would be great if Israel never disappointed us. Never let us down. But, like America, it sometimes does. The only meaningful question is this: what to do with our disaffection? My answer is this: We rededicate ourselves to a long-term, intergenerational partnership.”
Kessler noted that Heart of a Nation takes the long view: “Politics is failing young Americans, Israelis, and Palestinians. For the future to be brighter and not darker, young people must be empowered to improve the political cultures of their societies. They need mentors to guide them, faculty to instruct them, a safe space to dream with their peers, and opportunities to gain practical experience beyond their narrow communal silos. Without such an environment, young American Jews will further distance themselves from Israel, young Israelis will turn away from improving their society, and young Palestinians will give up on coexistence.”
Kessler’s antidote to generational distancing is an ambitious new paradigm for cross-cultural leadership empowerment. “It’s time for all of us to support the next generation of dreamers.”
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