Every autumn Israelis make the transition from fiery summery weather to the more contemplative holiday season, to the Hebrew month of Elul and then Tishrei. It’s time to consider the year gone by, one chockfull of news and politics, of social and cultural turning points, and time to prepare ourselves for the challenges of the year to come.
This transition demands we stop, think and search our souls. The change of seasons from hot to cool helps us prepare our souls for the storms of winter.
The past year saw Israeli society burn, when old hatreds and old quarrels resurfaced. We began 5775 licking our wounds from the difficult war last summer, and from there moved to the calumnies our elected representatives cast at one another in the run-up to the Knesset election in March. We reached this summer weary and impatient.
Last summer, when our sons fought shoulder to shoulder, we put aside our differences and got behind them.
We also prayed for the three kidnapped teenagers, alas to no avail. The past year was a sad one, one that tried our patience. Every branch, every sector of society tired of carrying the load, and demanded help in bearing the burden, clamoring for recognition.
The old controversies that divide our tribal society: Who decides? Who sets our cultural standards? Who contributes more to the nation? But the new rhetoric is sharper, more painful, and more hurtful. The old elites look down on the “new immigrants” who long since raised a second generation here, mocking their religious dogmas. The devout are angry at those who hold them in contempt and threaten that which they hold dear.
The religious accuse, “You’re not Zionists.” The old elites respond, “You’re a threat to democracy.” It’s not an easy conversation.
Out of the blue, important public figures vent long-repressed emotions, stoking fear and fanning hatred, spouting expressions like, “They’ve come out of their holes,” “They swarm to the polls” and, “They’re mezuzah-kissers,” and also, “We’re the majority, and the majority decides.” The empathy we so prided ourselves on, the thousands who attended the funerals last summer of lone soldiers from overseas who fell in the service of the nation, who sent care packages and tried to comfort the mourners, has evaporated into bitterness and anger.
The summer heat brought with it a new kind of violence: a young girl slain in the public square because she took part in a gay pride march, murdered by a haredi man, acting out of a sense of religious mission; a Palestinian baby and his father burned to death in their sleep, their home set alight in the name of God, in the name of Judaism that never authorized anyone to so act in its name.
The president of the state, Mr. Reuven Rivlin, publicly condemned the acts of violence and was harshly criticized by part of the public that was offended by his comments and who tried to disassociate themselves from the criminals in any way possible. But that can’t be done. The wounds are festering in front of us and need to be healed.
During the High Holy Days, days of splendor and majesty, we should ask ourselves and each other: What did we do that things reached this point? What did we do to prevent such terrible things from happening? Could we have better listened to the other, to have understood our fellow jew’s worldview, to explore his horizons, before we entrenched, before we built walls between us, before we rejected everything he holds dear? Yom Kippur, the sources say, does not atone for the sins between man and another person. Judaism places the responsibility for sins against our fellow man on us alone, and also the obligation to make things right with him.
Here, prayer and abstinence, and pleas to God, are not enough. Fasting of the soul and the body is reserved for our relationship with God. On earth, we must face the consequences of our actions and build our relations with our fellow man anew.
THIS IS a difficult challenge for the individual and for society, where one man’s dream is often another’s nightmare.
How can we build a fruitful dialogue with each other, members of the same people, even when we think they are wrong and their path endangers us? How can we find common ground, how can we overcome fundamental alienation against those we see as torpedoing our dreams? In my view, the basis for change lies in education, in the young generation, in educators and parents. When you’re taught from childhood that people have a right to think for themselves, that everyone has the same value, when a child really gets to know a range of lifestyles and to respect every one of them, he grows into an adult who knows how to act alongside those who are different from him, who knows that his identity and his way of life do not depend on negating the ways of others.
Life in Israel is not simple, but it is satisfying and enriching precisely because of the multitude of worldviews and disagreements, precisely because Jews of different streams and ethnic groups and communities build their homes and raise their children here. We have a duty to examine ourselves, to identify what leads us to reject those who do not follow the path we have chosen for ourselves, why we are afraid and therefore estranged or patronizing. Once we understand what the issues are, we can begin to address them, to fill our lives with new content of connection and spirit, of religious and secular prayer, of connection based on the treasures of Judaism, on democracy, on Israeli identity, and on the universal values that mankind has nurtured for the benefit of all its sons and daughters.
May the new year be one of tikkun, of connection based on the values of respect for the other, and of brotherhood and unity among the Jewish people in Zion and in the Diaspora. A year of peace among us and with our neighbors.
A year of peace throughout the world.
The author is the CEO of the Tzav Pius organization.