The Face of Optimism

“Optimists and pessimists die the same way. They just live differently. I prefer to live as an optimist.” These are the words of Shimon Peres (z”l). They are words that resonate with me and model how I choose to live my life. In the world today, it’s not always easy to be an optimist – there is pain and suffering around every corner, and each day brings with it new struggles.

But there are still things to be optimistic about.

In recent weeks, the United States concluded a much anticipated and widely publicized Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the State of Israel, supported by large bipartisan majorities, providing $38 billion of security funding over a ten year period. In my view, the historic nature of this agreement is not due to its significant amount of financial assistance. It is not the fact that it has the potential to create tens of thousands of jobs, or the fact that a vast majority of the money will be reinvested in the United States. And, to be sure, there are aspects of this MOU that are less than ideal for Israel. In my opinion, given our terribly divisive political climate, the agreement’s ten-year term speaks volumes about the partnership between Israel and the U.S. It reflects the enduring commitment of America to enhance the strength and security of its best friend and ally in a very turbulent region.

I haven’t even made it through my second decade of life, and yet this deal is going to last more than half of the time I’ve been alive. In just six weeks, I will have my first opportunity to cast a vote in a presidential election – one of the messiest elections America has ever seen, and definitely not what I was hoping for. This presidential contest seems to be at the center of every conversation, and these conversations can be brutal; the nastiness and name-calling has reached a new low on all sides. Regardless of how this election turns out, and even regardless of the outcome of the following election, we have no idea at this time who will be holding the title of Commander in Chief when this Memorandum of Understanding reaches its end in ten years.

Shimon Peres also said, “For me, dreaming is simply being pragmatic.” The self-confidence to make a statement like this is humbling to me. The dreams I hold for my own future, the future of America, the future of Israel, and the future of the intersection of all of those, seem far from pragmatic. The world is an overwhelming haze right now that I can’t seem to sift through.

In looking back on what has transpired in the world since I became involved in Israel advocacy, it is mind-boggling to see how much the world has changed. From the exponential growth in the world of social media to watching the Arab Spring/Islamic Winter take place, the world is changing faster than anyone can keep up with. It is impossible to even fathom the global events that will take place during the ten year term of this MOU.

I am a full-fledged Israel activist at the university level. I spend endless hours with like-minded Zionist students: brainstorming Israel programming when we should be sleeping; spending hours in coffee dates and meetings so as to keep up with everything that is going on relating to Israel in the ever-changing campus world; and travelling around the country from conference to conference, racking up miles and acquiring metro cards to every major city. We spend our free time enjoying the company of each other and the pro-Israel friends we’ve made on campuses across the country and world – sometimes sharing strategies to counter anti-Israel sentiment, but mostly gabbing about typical young-adult matters. Ten years from now, this is not what our lives will look like.

“When you have two alternatives, the first thing you have to do is to look for the third that you didn’t think about, that doesn’t exist.” More words of guidance from Peres. In the world of college advocacy, we are always trying to find new solutions, new ways to inspire the campus community to see what I see in the country that I love.

The cohort of my peers who are currently entrenched in this lifestyle are going to continue to grow up, enter the “real world” and pass the Israel advocacy torch to new and fresh faces. There is no way to foresee the state of affairs that these activists of the 2020s will have to handle; and while my friends and I will do everything we can to make their future easier, the conflict in the Middle East realistically is not letting up anytime soon, nor will the campus climate change dramatically.

In looking at a deal that is going to be in place for ten years, it is also important to realize that there will likely also be very serious changes of face in the midst of the conflict. To me, Shimon Peres’ passing represents the end of an era where peace was discussed as a genuine possibility. Shimon Peres, a man who served the world throughout the entire formation and establishment of the State of Israel now serves as a bookend to the story of the Middle East that we have come to know. Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas are also part of the original generation of leaders involved with the current state of Israeli-Palestinian relations. This leadership will not be in power forever. By the time this deal expires, we will have new people leading the Israeli and Palestinian people. If there is one aspect of this conflict that many people can agree on, it is that while change will ultimately stem from common people working together, the figureheads of these diverse people will have to one day sit down and sign a real plan for peace.

“The most important thing in life is to dare. The most complicated thing in life is to be afraid. The smartest thing in the world is to try to be a moral person.” The morality Shimon Peres showed his entire life is inspiring. The messages of support that came from American leadership at the announcement of his passing were truly touching. Despite bumps in the road, he has exemplified the commitment of our two nations.

To millennials like me, ten years is a massive amount of time. For the adults who signed this Memorandum of Understanding – adults who have been working on this legislation for much of the last decade already – perhaps ten years doesn’t seem so long. But with so much about to change in the next ten years, it is increasingly necessary to remember how grand a statement this deal actually is. American leadership will come and go; social networking and media will continue to evolve; the entire Arab world will undergo more changes; my peers and I will enter the work force; campuses will be run by children who are currently learning their times tables in elementary school; and the players of this game of chess on the ground in the Middle East will have shifted.

“We should use our imagination more than our memory.” The past has been rocky. The present is chaotic. The future is uncertain. But if we can learn from Shimon Peres we can learn not to dwell on what has gone wrong, but to look for consistency moving forward. What the MOU shows, what Shimon Peres’ life represents, is that what will remain constant despite everything else, is that America will always stand with Israel.

About the Author
I am a sophomore at the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign studying Animal Sciences. I am a Hasbara fellow on this campus this year following a year as a CAMERA fellow. I am involved in Israel Advocacy n campus through Hillel, Illini Students Supporting Israel and Illini Public Affairs committee.
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