5773 is coming to an end with a sense of uncertainty in the air. Iran moves ahead with its nuclear ambitions. Chemical weapons have been used in Syria, and we don’t know who will ultimately assume power there, or in Egypt. And yet, I believe that as we enter 5774, we should be more optimistic than we have been in decades.
Year after year we have gauged where we stand as a nation by our external threats and struggles. Along the way, we have managed to overlook many of the internal issues and challenges which define us as a people.
That has now changed, and this should fill us all with hope as we enter the new year.
Let us take a moment to reflect upon some of the internal issues which the 19th Knesset is already tackling.
Israel has been polarized for decades regarding inequality in national service responsibilities. A law creating equality in national service, while accounting for the spiritual sensitivities of the ultra-Orthodox, has passed its first reading. The IDF has announced the formation of a new battalion in the Nachal Haredi, a new NIS 16 million enlistment center for haredim (ultra-Orthodox), the first-ever haredi hesder yeshiva combining Torah study and army service, and the firstever haredi pre-army preparation program.
Hundreds of millions of shekels have been budgeted to help the haredim receive training to enter the workforce so they can sustain their families with dignity. I have been personally involved in the establishment of yeshiva high schools combining Torah study and general studies as well as the first ever haredi-administered employment agency.
Tensions have been simmering in Israeli society regarding issues of religion and state. Secular Israelis have felt pushed away from Judaism. Throughout the campaign last winter I heard young, secular Israelis repeat: “I hate Judaism, and I hate that I hate Judaism.” Jews who practice their Judaism in ways other than the Orthodox one have been made to feel that Israel is not their home. This has made Jews throughout the world feel disconnected with Israel and distant from their homeland.
For the first time in Israel’s history, leaders of non- Orthodox streams have been embraced as fellow Jews by Orthodox MKs and government ministers and discussions are under way to make sure all Jews feel at home in Israel. In addition, policy changes are being enacted to make traditional, Orthodox religious services more welcoming to the general public and a special government administration for Jewish values has been established to reconnect all Jews to classic Jewish texts, Jewish history, and core Jewish values.
The last few years have seen massive protests regarding lack of housing opportunities for young people in Israel. A special housing cabinet has been established bringing all the relevant ministers to work together to solve the crisis. The criteria for government housing subsidies has been changed from “experience in marriage” to those who have served in the military and graduated from university. The government also has plans to construct 150,000 low-cost rental units, which will impact the entire market for the better.
While we still have much more work to do to ensure that all young Israelis can purchase a new home, we have begun the process.
We have seen our country slip in international rankings over the past few decades. Comprehensive and long-term reforms led by the new education minister, including a plan to establish technological high schools and innovative approaches to teaching in the 21st century, will help us return, once again, to becoming world leaders in this realm.
This Knesset is addressing problems in Israel’s electoral and government system. A law raising the election threshold to four percent passed its first reading.
Building on the success of the current government, which reduced the number of ministers from over 30 down to 21, the law now allows no more than 19 ministers in the next government.
The government passed a budget which included tackling the country’s nearly NIS 40 billion deficit. Difficult and unpopular decisions were made to insure that we strengthen our economy rather than sink into further debt. Much needed and neglected reforms related to the ports and the electric company have begun.
This is just a partial list of all the positive steps which the current Knesset has taken to improve our future and our children’s future. We still have a long way to go to fully heal all our internal wounds but, as we enter 5774, the Knesset’s focus on correcting these and many other internal issues will only make us stronger when dealing with our external threats.
May we be blessed with a year of happiness, health, and peace in all factors of our lives.
Shanah tova to all.
The author is a rabbi and a Knesset member for Yesh Atid.