One of the central tenets of how we as Jews are supposed to encounter life is captured in the concept of hakarat hatov (recognition/appreciation of the good). The idea is to perceive the blessings in our life, to see the good that has been bestowed upon us and, critically important, to find the good, the silver lining in any situation.
There is no question that those who are able to go through life infused with this sense of gratitude and appreciation have greater resilience, emotional fortitude and probably live longer – and certainly happier – than those for whom the glass is always half empty.
The exhortation for us to perceive and appreciate the good is not just an individual responsibility, but also a communal one. We, the Jewish people, as citizens of Israel, have, I believe, a collective obligation to seek out the good that surrounds us.
Sadly, there is a pronounced strain of some, particularly those who are paid to opine about our society, to perceive things quite differently. The mindsets range from a critical eye towards pretty much everything, to a sense that we have been corrupted and distorted.
To many of these pundits, we are constantly sliding, we have fallen far from where we were in previous times, which in the glow of hindsight, seem positively Edenic.
Such criticisms and perspectives can apply to tolerance, our economy, and to most everything that would comprise the soul and spirit of our society. To read otherwise intelligent observers lamenting that Israel has become a racist, bigoted, hateful society, unmindful of those who are struggling economically, is to enter a world view that can seem positively surreal.
Fact: we are a society that is replete with problems and challenges. Those seeking our imperfections will find no shortage of material.
However, for those of us who are striving for the betterment of society, focusing on the good rather than the ideal, there is oh so much to be grateful for.
Let us remind ourselves of a bottom line reality: Israel is an extraordinarily diverse country composed of Jews from every corner of the Earth, and non-Jews that cover much of the spectrum of the 70 nations of the world.
We are a young country that, in repayment for millenia-long yearnings and aspirations, has re-created a Jewish state – an idea that until relatively recently was thought to be the stuff of mysticism, if not science fiction. At the same time, we have set ourselves up as a democracy, in which our majority respects our minorities, seeking to draw them into the warp and woof of our society.
This mission to be both a Jewish and democratic state is hard enough. Add into the mix, the ethnic diversity and the political distortions inherent in a coalition-type government, and the potential for tensions and conflict are rampant.
But dear folks, let’s get a grip.
Desires to protect Jewish particularity do not make Israel a nascent theocracy. Protecting Israeli sovereignty or legitimacy is not tantamount to fascism. Concerns about security do not make us racists.
Not too long ago, I wrote about the fact that Israel had been rated as the 11th happiest country in the world. I noted that the 10 higher-ranking countries not only had lower birth and higher suicide rates (not even considered in the ranking), but were all countries that were largely, if not completely exempt from external geo-political pressures.
If we were the hateful, misogynistic, chauvinistic, venal society that the reverse-rose colored-glasses critics believe we are, then, unless we are also all just sadists, it seems unlikely that we could be so happy.
Our economy has never been stronger. We have made great strides to banish privation, even though the poor will always be among us. We have become sensitive to those groups who, in the Edenic times of our critics, were treated wretchedly. We are trying to balance religious pluralism with a justified horror of the slow motion train wreck of American Jewry, which has been dominated by the same groups that are demanding a greater voice here.
To look with dewy-eyed nostalgia at a past that (a) was less than wonderful, and (b) which itself was seen then to be far worse than what preceded it, is to forfeit one’s credibility as a useful, constructive critic of our society.
I would prefer that our critics frame their observations, criticisms and suggestions in the context of how we can improve on a situation that should be seen as both fundamentally complicated, but also rooted in good faith legitimacy.
Let us see our challenges as being rooted in a healthy, just society that is steeped in goodwill, tolerance and a great desire for decency. We can do better – and we will do better, precisely because, as the old song says, “these are the good old days.”The writer is the chairman of the board of Im Tirtzu, and a director of the Israel Independence Fund. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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