“In the end, love overcomes,” my late friend Eitan Gdalizon used to say. During tense meetings, stressful negotiations and difficult deliberations, when others were being stubborn, aggressive or even downright rude, Eitan would share a little story or song snippet and repeat his mantra: “The way of love is stronger than any other. In the end, love overcomes.”
“His mother wants him to serve in Army Intelligence, but Yehuda* is determined to get into an elite commando unit,” said Gidi*. I was Yehuda’s karate instructor for many years and I knew that whatever path he took in the army, he would follow seriously, professionally and successfully. “You know, Gidi,” I answered, “you no longer have any choice in this matter. You can’t bring up a child on Zionism, love of the land, volunteerism and excellence, and then be surprised when he wants to join an elite army unit. Your upbringing has been guiding him along this path since childhood, and the only thing you can do now is be cautious and proud parents.”
Avner* is several years older than Yehuda and has already served four years in the elite unit to which Yehuda aspires. A few weeks before Rosh Hashanah, Avner married a young woman who, like him, grew up in our community Hoshaya. The whole community celebrated with them. Under the chuppah, as the rabbi placed the traditional glass at his feet, Avner pulled a note from his pocket, and, in a voice choking with emotion, asked the guests to join him in a moment of remembrance and sorrow: “Even now, at the moment of our greatest happiness, we remember that nothing is ever perfect… Let us remember our friend and classmate Oren z”l, who wanted so much to be with us today but who fell a few weeks ago while serving in Gaza…”
In recent months, a cruel new player has swept onto the scene in the Middle East: ISIS. ISIS terrorizes civilians and soldiers while it rages through the area. Before we barely have time to recall what its initials stand for, ISIS is virtually on Israel’s doorstep. The world is still learning what ISIS is – and it had better learn fast – but from what we know so far it looks like we are not talking about large numbers or a lot of advanced weaponry. Their arsenal consists of the oldest weapons of all: hate and terror, using the sickening tactics of beheading, rape and mass slaughter. As of this writing, Israel is not at the top of ISIS’s enemy list, but I believe it is just a question of time before ISIS – or at least some splinter group thereof – becomes enamored of the idea of targeting the only democracy in the region.
The IDF does not induct soldiers who are motivated to succeed by hatred or whose personal success is based on the numbers of those who are killed. When IDF fighters answer what motivates them to spend three or more years in Sisyphean hard work under difficult, life-threatening conditions, most of them say things like, “The challenge,” “Someone has to do it,” “I have no other country,” “My comrades,” or “My upbringing.” Hatred for the enemy is not on the list.
Israel is surrounded by enemies who hate us, hate Jews and hate what we represent. Most reasons for this hatred stem from a long-history, seasoned with detestation of the occupied for the occupier and of the vanquished for the victorious.
Many challenges face Israel. One less obvious yet hugely important challenge is to continue using love to fuel the motors of Israel’s dreams, security and creativity, and not allow the fuel to be contaminated with hatred. As my friend Eitan would say: “The way of love is the strongest.”
Sagi Melamed lives with his family in the community of Hoshaya in the Galilee. He serves as Vice President of External Affairs at the Max Stern Yezreel Valley College. Sagi received his Masters degree from Harvard University in Middle Eastern Studies with a specialty in Conflict Resolution. His book “Son of My Land was published in 2013. Sagi can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This essay first appeared in The Canadian Jewish News.