It’s a tough day here in Israel, to say the least. The mood is somber. It’s hard to think of what to say. Even I want to share only one small piece of advice. Everything seems so surreal. How did we get here so quickly? The end of democracy? Revenge for what “they” did to “us” during the disengagement from Gush Katif? Civil war? A split between Judah and Israel? Are you serious? Is this the State of Israel?
Just a few short months ago, we were “the beacon of democracy in the Middle East.” Just a few short months ago we were the “startup nation” trying to figure out how to graduate to become the “scale-up nation,” not the “liquidation nation”.
So many of us are asking ourselves what we can do to slow everything down. What can we do to stop this train from speeding toward disaster? How can we repair the tears plaguing us? If someone had the answer already, I’d assume we wouldn’t be where we are today.
But we can’t afford to despair. We can’t afford not to try. Too much is at stake. Our beloved homeland is being torn apart from within. For years, when I’ve explained to people the need for the Gesher (organization), I would say almost by rote that “the only force that has the power to destroy Am Yisrael is Am Yisrael.” And people would question my assumption. Today, it is so clear. Today, as we commemorate Tisha Be’av, it feels too real.
JUST THE other day, for a few hours, my feed was filled with optimistic pictures and captions. We all saw them. Those going up the escalator to one protest and those going down the escalator to the other protest but shaking hands and talking to one another.
We all saw the videos from Gan Sacher where many on the pro-reform side went to talk to those sleeping in tents on the anti-reform side. The picture on the train of a young kippa-wearing man seemingly from a yeshiva hugging an older seemingly Tel Aviv pro-reform man. And we smiled. We even shed a tear of hope.
So what can we do? With much humility, I say one word: “Listen.” Listen to the pain of the other side. Spend some time and grab someone from the “other” protest, and sit down for a conversation. But don’t try to prove your side is correct. Listen to their point of view. Feel their pain. Why are they out there protesting every Saturday night for six months? Why are they so intent on “fixing” the balance of power between the branches of government?
The challenges we face today
When I lead groups of influential leaders to experience Diaspora Jewry in order to strengthen our connection to them, we always face a major challenge head-on. The mayors, journalists, or CEOs of companies and organizations are always used to being the ones doing the talking. They need to set the record straight. They need their voices to be heard. They need to be the ambassadors for their cities, their companies, for Israel.
The challenge we face is how to get them to listen. We spend hours in Israel prior to our trips flexing the listening muscle so that they can hear the other side. If they are always on edge, waiting to prove the other side wrong, we’ll get nowhere. We’ll never learn. We’ll never identify empathetically with the other.
That’s the least we can do now. We can listen to each other. We can feel their pain. We can hopefully identify with their situation. After listening, we can digest and recognize that they too have values. They too care. They too want what’s best for Israel.
Our nation is made up of the sum of all its parts. And each part is precious. And, hopefully, that can put us back on a path to creating something together that is much bigger than any one of us in particular. Let’s repair the tears!
The author serves as the international director of the Gesher organization.