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Nowhere is the extreme spiritual crisis of the Jewish people more evident than in the State of Israel. A loss of purpose and direction has overtaken the vast majority of Israelis and most of its leaders, replaced by confusion and hopelessness.
But let us not get confused about the confusion. This hopelessness is not the result of Israel's sudden realization that it has a Hamas state on its doorstep, or that Iran is preparing to destroy our state. At the core of the crisis is a fundamental misreading of the Jewish people's nature and destiny.
The attempt to transform that people into a normal nation in its own homeland has turned into a farce. In fact, it is exploding right in Israelis' faces. The old secular Zionist dream promised that once Jews had their own homeland, anti-Semitism would cease to exist; but it has now become clear that the very existence of the State of Israel has become the main reason for anti-Semitism.
A normal Israeli state with a normal army and government and a normal people has not transformed the Jewish people into a normal nation, reconfirming the old biblical truth that "Israel dwells alone and shall not be reckoned among the nations" (Numbers, 23:9). Like it or not, we are not a "normal" people and can make no greater mistake than to try to "normalize" ourselves. Our long history is, by definition, one of existential oddity.
Wrote Nicolay Berdyayev in The Meaning of History: "I remember how the materialist interpretation of history, when I attempted in my youth to verify it by applying it to the destinies of peoples, broke down in the case of the Jews, where destiny seemed inexplicable... [Their] survival is a mysterious and wonderful phenomenon... governed by a special predetermination, transcending the processes of adaptation... The survival of the Jews, their resistance to destruction, their endurance under absolutely peculiar conditions are [their] fateful role... in history; all these point to the particular and mysterious foundations of their destiny."
INDEED, NO other nation has impacted on mankind as much as this nation, which granted it the Bible and gave birth to the greatest prophets and men of spirit. Its spiritual ideas and moral laws still influence entire civilizations. It gave birth to a man seen by millions as their Messiah and laid the foundations on which moderate Christianity, Islam and much of secular moral teachings were built. It provided mankind with a messianic hope for the future and endowed the individual with dignity and responsibility.
As no other nation, the Jews gave the Gentile world the Outside and the Inside, their outlook and inner life.
"We (Gentiles) can hardly get up in the morning or cross the street without being Jewish. We dream Jewish dreams and hope Jewish hopes. Most of our best words, in fact - new, adventure, surprise; unique, individual, person, vocation; time, history, future; freedom, progress, spirit; faith, hope, justice - are the gifts of the Jews" (Thomas Cahill, The Gifts of the Jews).
Jews have a destiny and mission radically different from any other nation. They are an eternal people with an eternal message - and their history is one of extreme "abnormality." That is why secular Zionism's attempt to "normalize" the Jewish people failed, and will always fail. No nation can live with a borrowed identity.
THE DESIRE to escape Jewish destiny via secular Zionism has undermined the moral security of the people that dwells in Zion. Zionism has spent its inherited resources, leaving large segments of Israeli society with a rootless secularism, without memory or, therefore, expectation.
Broad sections of society, alienated from the historic continuity of the Jewish people, have become unsure of the moral validity of our claim to the land of our forefathers.
And indeed, there is no Israeli claim to the land; there can only be a Jewish claim. Where there is no continuity, there can be no return. Only in the uninterrupted chain of Jewish generations lies the certainty that this was our land, all through our exile, taken from us by force. Our forever-articulated faith in our right to the land of our forefathers has been our eternal protest against anyone who has held it or wanted to possess it.
But this faith is inseparable from our Jewish destiny. Once we reject that, our claim to the land stands on quicksand.
THE TIME will come, perhaps sooner than later, when Israel's government understands that it has brought havoc upon its people by denying them their Jewish roots. It will then come begging for help from those they have seen fit to reject: the young religious and tradition-loving Zionists.
The government will realize that no greater mistake could have been made than to create a serious rift with these communities; and that these young people, together with all who cherish a deep Jewish connection to the land and love for Judaism - even if they are not (fully) observant - are the ones prepared to die for the land, and therefore the only ones able to restore it.
They have a keen understanding of Jewish destiny. They are Israel's lifeline. While large portions of the population have turned against them, the day will come when they realize that on them their physical and spiritual survival depend.
THE LEADERS of the religious Zionist community thus bear a tremendous responsibility: They will have to prepare this community for the day all Israel appears on its doorstep, begging for help. They will have to rethink religious Zionist ideology and make sure the well-being of the people and their connection with Judaism takes precedence over anything else.
They will have to see the land as a means, and not as an end in itself. They will have to remove that which is unnecessary and undesired and add what is crucial. They will need to make sure that the image of the religious or tradition-loving Zionist is one of great integrity and kiddush Hashem (sanctification of God's name).
By the time all Israel comes calling, those leaders will need to have grown into a balanced, tolerant and pragmatic body that will proudly reconnect the nation with its Jewish heritage.
It is ultimately an awareness of the radical "otherness" of the Jewish people that will ensure the Jewish future in the State of Israel. It is this that will enable us to stand up to any external threat. Confusion will be replaced by certainty, bewilderment by calm.
Nathan Lopes Cardozo, author of many books on Judaism, is the Dean of the David Cardozo Academy, Jerusalem.
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