After the Israeli elections: A sacred path to peace
By GIL STEINLAUF
Israelis have begun the process of returning to the spiritual roots not only of the Zionist dream, but of Judaism itself.
We have a real reason to be hopeful about Israel’s future. My optimism springs
not simply from the victory of the “radical center” in Israeli politics; the
real victory in Israel is a move to national teshuvah (repentance) in the best
sense of the term – returning to our essence as a Jewish people. That essence is
the idea that our peoplehood – our affirmation of community itself – is the
strongest and best path to peace.
There are those who have argued that
Yair Lapid’s success in the Yesh Atid party represents an act of erecting
blinders to the real and pressing issues of national security.
the election results pointing only more deeply to a national cynicism about a
meaningful peace. In fact, the opposite is true.
It may be correct that
Israelis are tired of a leadership committed only to reactive, tactical policies
against our enemies. It may be that Israelis see a lack of genuine strategic
measures to achieve real peace. They are indeed growing weary of a lack of
visionary leadership. They are witnessing an ever-polarizing Israeli society
between Left and Right, between Orthodox and secular. They are finding their
country defined more by war and defense than by normal concerns and
And so, in substantive ways, Israelis have shifted. They have
begun the process of returning to the spiritual roots not only of the Zionist
dream, but of Judaism itself. It was Hillel who asked, “If not now, when?” The
time has come for Israelis to begin to imagine a society not defined by a
struggle to survive, and to create the kind of society they want for themselves,
to live in a more just and balanced kind of Israel.
envisioning of a healthy, hopeful and just society began even before the ancient
Israelites reached the Land of Israel. When God announced the final Egyptian
plague, the slaying of the firstborn, the narrative interrupts the high drama
and terrifying conditions of the night to list a series of detailed instructions
on how the redemption from slavery will be marked for all future
Despite being surrounded – quite literally – by death, the
Israelites are to affirm the future.
They affirm, even with no certainty
at all that they will survive the night, that their children and children’s
children will look back with gratitude for their deliverance. This same process
is unfolding in Israel today.
What we’re witnessing right now in Israel
is the farthest thing from national cynicism; the core optimism of the Jewish
We’re witnessing the rejection of national Israeli identity
shaped only by the wounds of the Holocaust, the agony of terrorism, and the
dread of hostile neighbors. We’re witnessing the rising up of the very mystery
that has sustained us for 3,000 years: our faith that our peoplehood has a
It is the belief that we can and will survive by the
strength of a community that seeks, at all costs, to affirm life’s preciousness
We Jews here in America, and around the world must support
this emerging affirmation of life and community in the Jewish state and
celebrate it. A very Jewish kind of wisdom is emerging in Israel, one that
recognizes that despite the stark societal contrasts and divisions, despite the
real security threats, peace begins with a community that treasures its every
member. Peace begins when we cease to focus only on fear and instead create a
society worth achieving peace for. It’s happening right now.
sure that Israel’s peaceful future takes shape right here and now.
writer is the senior rabbi at Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, DC.