Ianai Silberstein

Missing ‘Hartman’

This year we could not make it to “Hartman” (The Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, or SHI). It was not because of the war but because of personal matters that had us stay home. For happy events, thank God. There is no regret, but certainly, there is longing. Having participated of SHI’s Community Leadership Programs (CLP) many, many times now over fifteen years, this year one had to be in Jerusalem. If proof is needed, the overcrowded Bet Midrash (250 participants) is eloquent proof for all of us who access the selected lectures offered through the internet.

We were there last year, and the year before. In June 2022, the government lead by Bennet fell while we were attending a morning lecture at SHI. Lapid took over as PM (honoring the rotation agreement), and by November, Israel went back to Bibi Netanyahu in his worst version ever: a coalition with the ultraorthodox parties and with the messianic, fascist MKs chosen under the Smotrich-Ben-Gvir alliance promoted by Netanyahu himself. It was a nightmare with no exit; we are still in it.

When we arrived in Israel in 2023, again for CLP, we felt a surreal sense of dislocation and brokenness. The Israel we knew since ever and to which we have returned as often as possible, was still there to see; but we knew that, beneath the surface, the tectonic plates of Israeli society were moving dangerously.

The Israel we had grown to love, the ideals that filled our youth, and the hope that sustained our adult life as committed Zionists, had suddenly become huge question marks one could read in “the writing on the walls”, as well as in every colloquial interchange with the average Israeli.

It was all there, but somehow it was not. The dark shadow of the judicial reform lurked over reality. One was hoping for some One to say: “Let there be light”, but no One came forward. We spent our week at SHI, mused over the challenges ahead, hoped for better times, and flew back home.

Then came October 7. The dark shadow brought the ninth and the tenth plagues: full darkness and the death of our kin, be it firstborns, parents, or grandparents. Passover came six months later and we were still slaves. God had not skipped the Israeli households this time. Simchat Torah will come soon, but the hopes for freedom seem more and more remote every week, every month. The Omer is over but we are still counting time since October 7.

Messing our calendar confuses our Jewishness. Our identity is challenged, our assumptions are questioned. The future is uncertain, no matter how much hope we pour into our deeds and decisions. Hoping translates into uncertainty. Still, hope is better than despair, which becomes self-destructive. This is when “Hartman” comes in. To cast some light into darkness. To lit both the flames of light and of hope. That is why we should have been there.

We have been listening to the podcasts “For Heaven’s Sake” in both English and Hebrew since the beginning. We have found insight, inspiration, and honest opinions. As time has passed, and even if Netanyahu avoids “the day after”, it is time to start dealing with the issue. “Hartman” is doing so: from what we have watched live, the spirit of this year CLP points in this direction. Maybe being there would have helped us to come back home at least relieved of our pessimism, if not wholly optimistic.

As Yehuda Kurtzer put it, “There is no way for the Jewish people to go around, only through.” As Donniel Hartman put it, “We have to take the most significant questions and challenges that we face.” As Yossi Klein-Halevi suggested, the challenge is to envision “a resurrection of some kind of unity government.”

With so many challenges on the table, one longs to be there this week as a part of the larger conversation. Sometimes, locally, one just cannot find the right partner. One does its best to introduce issues and subjects, but each Jewish community has its own challenges, and therefore, its own Jewish conversation. “Hartman” has proven, through the years, to be a rich source for new proposals, no matter how hard it is to “translate” them into the vernacular public opinion. One must insist and keep trying.

We will be “next in year in Jerusalem”, hopefully. May be the Jewish people will, by then, have moved from uncertainty to new paradigms, from dimness to light, from despair back to hope. We count our blessings at home while we wish we were taking in the wisdom over there.

In the meantime, we do not surrender our commitment to contribute to save and build a true, honest, and significant Judaism. In the “Hartman-style”.

About the Author
1957, married, a son and a daughter, two grandsons. Very closely related to Israel, residing in Uruguay. Retired. Lay leader at NCI, the Masorti congregation in Montevideo. Served twice as President of the Board. Vice President of the Board of the Jewish school. Twenty-five years involvement in community affairs. Attended the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem nine times over the years since 2009 for their CLP programs. Writer & lecturer.