Viewpoint: The new Israel

What kind of state does the younger generation want?

A young couple walk down Jerusalem’s Jaffa Road (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
A young couple walk down Jerusalem’s Jaffa Road
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
THE STATE of Israel is a fait accompli thanks to the generations that came before us. Now my generation, the younger generation, must determine what kind of state it will be.
Our generation is a new breed of Israeli. For us, the State of Israel is an indisputable fact. We were born into the reality of the Zionist dream, a national homeland. The founding fathers would probably not understand the DNA of new Israelis, myself included, who don’t live with constant doubt about our survival (this in spite of frequent reminders to the contrary made by our prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu). We didn’t know an economy of triple- digit inflation. Who in our generation remembers that Egypt was once Israel’s greatest enemy?
Our enemies have the capacity to disrupt our lives, to make us miserable at times, but they cannot destroy us. The “iron wall” of Jabotinsky and the IDF’s Iron Dome are proof of that. Am I deluding myself with a conceptual worldview reminiscent of that which prevailed before the Yom Kippur war? I don’t believe that I am. I am simply reading the geopolitical map and Israel’s standing in the region.
I am not whitewashing the situation. To be an Israeli still entails challenges and complexities. Like the generations before us, we too are sent into the battlefield to protect our nation. I’ve been there. I’ve buried eight friends, among them my best friend. I have held the hands of the parents of fallen soldiers with no words to comfort them. I was a child during the second intifada, and together with many of my generation, lost faith in the Palestinians.
Despite all this, we cannot deny that the new generation is in a different place economically, security-wise and, most importantly, psychologically. The fulfillment of Herzl’s vision has brought us to a dramatic moment in history – one that allows us to confront hard questions that previous generations did not have the luxury to broach.
Now is the time to answer questions such as what will the State of Israel be, as opposed to will the State of Israel be.
Although there are no magic solutions, inertia is not an option. We must not think that our work will be done by others. We must change our tune to Hillel’s “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” while not forgetting the corollary, “But if I am only for myself, who am I?” The questions are tough: The role of religion, the drafting of a Hebrew constitution, the integration of minorities, the huge social and economic disparities, the distancing of Diaspora Jews. And so much more.
While recent governments have done much with regard to Israel’s well-being and place in the world, on the domestic level they have largely decided not to decide. My generation has the privilege and the burden of shaping the character of our state.
The solutions will not come from heated debates and papal legislation. Change will come from young activists seeking to solve the problems of their communities. We are armed with the Internet, social media and a global community that can bypass the establishment and create new facts on the ground. It is already happening.
Young ultra-Orthodox men maintain their identity as Torah-loving Jews but see no contradiction between that and becoming part of a modern economy. Young Arab men and women seek to be part of Israeli society in spite of unresolved issues of national identity. Groups of young settlers have opened dialogue with Palestinians, realizing that though a peace agreement may seem like science fiction, they still see responsibility in ensuring a better way of life for ourselves and our neighbors.
Now is the time to realize our responsibility. Let us be sure that when the history of our generation is written, it shall be said of us, in the words of Jeremiah: “In those days, they shall say no more, ‘the fathers have eaten sour grapes and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’” Our generation’s time has come. History may not give us a second chance.
The writer is a student at Shalem College in Jerusalem.