Israelis must forgive each other to move past the judicial reform trauma - opinion

What will it take for us here, in Israel, to not only wave the flag but rally beneath it in camaraderie and common cause?

 A BRITISH Army patrol arrives in the aftermath of a bomb blast in Belfast, Northern Ireland, 1972. (photo credit: David Lomax/Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
A BRITISH Army patrol arrives in the aftermath of a bomb blast in Belfast, Northern Ireland, 1972.
(photo credit: David Lomax/Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Nine out of 10 opinion pieces, it seems, are about the judicial reform controversy currently rocking the nation. So whenever I sit down to share some thoughts, that is always the first topic that comes to mind. And I have said my piece about it more than once.

But right now, I don’t want to focus on today’s headlines; I want to think about tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow. Because at some point, sooner or later, we are going to arrive at some kind of compromise or accommodation. Perhaps the current government will step down, or be replaced, or run its course, giving way to new leadership. It might even decide to graciously relent on its rights and magnanimously compromise for the sake of calm and quiet. The brilliant cartoonist of Dry Bones, Yaakov Kirschen, wryly remarks that Israel never really solves its crises; it just comes across a new crisis that makes us forget the previous one! Whatever the catalyst, we will get through this, I faithfully believe.

But what will be the residue, the result of this traumatic infighting? What kind of society will we be left with? What toll will this battle of wills have taken upon our society? Will we have irreparably fractured into two nations of two distinct minds, doomed forever to war against the other in our hearts, if not in the streets? In short, peace will come, but what kind of peace will it be?

How will Israel move past the internal fighting over judicial reform?

There are countless models with which to compare. We have “peace” with neighbors Egypt and Jordan, and we work in tandem with them on many issues, from water and electricity, to security and calm borders. The absence of active fighting between our countries has been a blessing, saving untold numbers of lives. But it is a “cold” peace, frigid even. 

Both Egyptian and Jordanian society at large detest us, with a visceral animosity. The Egyptian song “I Hate Israel” is a perennial favorite; the Jordanian Journalistic Union bars any interview with an Israeli, let alone any positive comment about us. While our own citizens visit both countries, to see Petra or the pyramids, it is, sadly, a one-way tourist road.

 DEMONSTRATORS LIGHT a bonfire during an anti-judicial reform protest in Tel Aviv.  (credit: GILI YAARI/FLASH90)
DEMONSTRATORS LIGHT a bonfire during an anti-judicial reform protest in Tel Aviv. (credit: GILI YAARI/FLASH90)

Is that the kind of peace we shall have among ourselves, grudgingly cooperating for our mutual benefit but harboring ill will at the same time?

THE PROTESTANTS and the Catholics finally made peace in Ireland, but there, too, strong feelings of resentment remain. My daughter spent months back-packing through the Emerald Isle and confirmed that below the surface, the tensions between Irish Dublin and British Belfast still smolder. The “Troubles” that saw thousands killed over three decades officially ended in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, but on a human level an invisible wall of bitterness remains. 

Is that what we can expect here?

Then, of course, there is the American Civil War, resulting in more bloodshed than any other American conflict. It took many years for the North and South to come to terms with each other, and the wounds have not entirely healed. Democrats and Republicans battle it out at the ballot box, but they still combine to form the United States – its dollar proclaiming E pluribus unum, “From many, one.” And if you visit sports stadiums throughout the country, you will hear rousing renditions of “Proud to Be an American” ring from the stands. 

What will it take for us here, in Israel, to not only wave the flag but rally beneath it in camaraderie and common cause?

We have now entered the month of Elul, the gateway to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The period between 1 Elul and 10 Tishrei comprises the transformative 40 days of repentance, wherein we seek reconciliation with not only God but also – perhaps even more importantly – with our neighbors. This is no easy task; while we can inaudibly profess our prayers of forgiveness to the Almighty, we have to expressly ask our fellow citizens for their pardon for our having hurt or harmed them. 

At the same time, we, who may be the injured party, have to let go of our own rancor, lower our ego, and humbly submit to the extended hand of friendship. This two-way process of teshuva, says Maimonides, constitutes one of the primary mitzvot of the Torah, one that results in Yom Kippur being crowned as “the happiest day of the year.”

All this takes guts and gumption, but I suggest we have a hidden ally in this challenge: the ability to forget. While remembrance is certainly a crucial component of Judaism – Yizkor and Yom Hazikaron are among our most sacred moments – there are times when memory holds us back. If we hold on too tightly to the bitter moments when we suffered or were maligned, when we stumbled, when we failed ourselves and lost control of our dignity or decency, we could be dragged into endless despair and desperation. And so, at those times, it is best to forget; and, as a result, be able to forgive ourselves, as well as others.

The Torah portion this week describes our unending struggle against the forces of evil, characterized by Amalek, but certainly inherent in some of our contemporary enemies. We are commanded, “Zachor... al tishkach;” (remember and do not forget [what was done to us]). But why the double phraseology? If we remember, then surely we won’t forget. And if we don’t forget, then of course we’ll remember!

THE MESSAGE here is a profound one. We revere our past and are in dire need of its guidance; we must never let it slip away. As the philosopher George Santayana famously remarked, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” 

But at the same time, if we are too preoccupied, too attached to the past – particularly its most tragic moments – then we might become paralyzed with grief, regret, or recrimination, and be held back from going forward. And so, we have to activate these powers of both memory and forgetfulness with wisdom and discretion in order to keep our sanity and stay solvent with society.

On the High Holy Days, we laud God, who “remembers all that is forgotten.” If this means that God never forgets a sin or an error we committed, then this is an extremely frightful thought. But Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach explained it differently.

“People,” he said, “never really forget the truly bad things they have done. These things stick out in our mind, and invariably gnaw at our conscience. But the innumerable, small good things that we do – the coins we gave to a poor person, the smiles we flashed at others, the advice or support we once offered to someone in need – these fade and disappear from our memory. But God never forgets them! He carefully stores them up and when it comes time to judge us and rule on our fate, these little acts of goodness come gushing forth and serve to convince God that we do, indeed, merit another year of life.”

So if we are to move on – eventually – from the rock and hard place in which we find ourselves today, we would do well to try to forget the indiscretions and counter-ideologies of our fellow Israeli, and instead bring to mind all the constructive, positive acts they perform: defending us with their lives; building this country into a super-power; keeping Judaism alive throughout the generations; and choosing to live here and not in some “easier” country.

Most of all, we should remember – and never forget – that, at the end of the day, we can only depend upon one another to survive, and to flourish. 

The writer is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra’anana.