Irina Nevzlin

Let’s argue like a family does

ANU - Museum of the Jewish People (Roni Cnaani)
ANU - Museum of the Jewish People (Roni Cnaani)

With Israel’s 75th celebration of independence rapidly approaching, I find myself with a lot to think about. Without a doubt, as an Israeli and a Jew, I couldn’t be prouder of our country and its achievements. The existence of the Jewish state, which many of us take for granted, is not a miracle but a dream that was made into a reality.

For me, a Russian-born Jewish woman, being a proud citizen of this country is my own dream come true. Our people have survived many wars and paid a high price to live in a Jewish homeland. We have been through challenging times of adversity that have forged us into a nation. But, a 75 year-old country is still a relatively young one. And when democracy is still young, it is both fragile and volatile.

For many Jews in Israel and the Diaspora, the last few months have been challenging, to say the least. The debate has become so heated that the rhetoric on both sides is alarming, and both sides are digging their heels in when it comes to compromise. The concern is real, but I am still optimistic, and here’s why.

Israel at 75 is a vibrant democracy where people exercise their right to elect the parliament and to protest and disagree with the elected government. Democracies are overturned when people are apathetic. There’s no risk of that happening here. Hundreds of thousands have taken to the streets in protest, and all but a small few are conducting themselves peacefully. Shouldn’t we all be proud of that? I know I am.

Need another reason to feel proud? Just look at the diversity of the protesting crowd! It’s not one sector against another. You can see secular people alongside religious ones, Tel Aviv hipsters, people from the periphery, and families from all over the country. There are high-tech professionals alongside doctors and nurses, veteran Israelis together with new immigrants, students with senior citizens.

This is what I find so reassuring about the future of our democracy. Israel has faced many crises, always peacefully, and manages to democratically resolve them. The current crisis is a tough test for our society, but the State of Israel will contend with this ordeal as well.

Some people claim that the current situation is the result of conflicting values among the different parts of Israeli society. I don’t believe this is the case. Despite all our disagreements, the majority of our society shares the same values, and that’s because we care about the same things.

We all want our country to be enduring, our kids to grow up with strong roots and identities, and get the best education relevant to their future. We want our cities clean, our economy robust, and our freedom to be who we are. But, we are a country of people with many different ways of life, whether religious or secular, city or countryside, close-knit communities or open ones, farmers or hi-tech, traditional or modern, parents raising young children or retirees enjoying their golden years—and the list goes on. I truly believe we can find a way to live together and respect each other, despite our different lifestyles. And I wish our leaders could show us the way. Unfortunately, they seem to be busy hiding or shouting empty populistic slogans.

Why do we argue? Because we care. Debating is a longstanding part of the Jewish tradition. And fighting for our beliefs is too. But let’s argue like a family does, with respect and love for each other. The big problem with judicial reform is not the reform itself but how we talk about it. We can be passionate about it, but let’s be a family. Let’s not lose our ability to listen to one another.

Right now, all eyes are on the proposed judicial reform. But, as someone who lives and breathes the Jewish Diaspora, there is something else that keeps me awake at night: the rift between Israel and the Jewish people outside our borders. It didn’t start yesterday. For years we’ve been witnessing the two largest Jewish communities, Israel and the US, drifting apart.

We need a different kind of dialog when we talk politics and when we communicate as people. Whatever tensions exist, let’s keep them for politics. When it goes beyond that, it starts affecting how the Diaspora relates to us. If we, in Israel, can’t hold a dialog between different groups, the rift between these same groups in the Diaspora is made wider and deeper. On a personal level, our connections are strong and must stay strong.

It’s worth noting that we have the perfect platform for dialog between different groups and factions in Israel, and the Jewish diaspora. ANU – Museum of the Jewish People is the only platform that represents all the perspectives of Jews from around the world and the Jewish community at large. ANU is more than just a pretty place. It serves as a vehicle for the message of unity.

If you’re looking for inspiration or need a boost of optimism about our future as a nation, come and visit us. In our museum, you’ll find diverse audiences of all populations and ages, students, soldiers, adults, families, ministers and Knesset members, religious, secular, and more—where each person feels that it is their home, because we are all part of the same family.

Our doors are open to everyone. We are waiting for you!

About the Author
Irina Nevzlin is an Israeli entrepreneur , the Chair of the Board of Directors at ANU - Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv , President of the Nadav Foundation, Founder and Chair of IMPROVATE and  the author of the award-winning book “The Impact of Identity – The power of knowing who you are”. As chair of the board at ANU - The biggest Jewish Museum in the world, Ms. Nevzlin conducted a comprehensive, bottom-up transformation of the then-Diaspora Museum, which now tells the story of the Jewish people’s past, present, and future. She also leads the Nadav Foundation that promote projects that build a sense of Jewish peoplehood and nurture values of liberalism. In 2017, Nevzlin was chosen by The Jerusalem Post newspaper as one of the 50 most influential Jews in the world.
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