My Word: The old and the new

The 10 days that separate Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are characterized by a unique period of heshbon nefesh, soul searching. Here are some reflections on the year just over and thoughts for the year ahead.

Kids ride scooters on Yom Kippur 390 (photo credit: Darren Whiteside/Reuters)
Kids ride scooters on Yom Kippur 390
(photo credit: Darren Whiteside/Reuters)
A friend – both in real life and on Facebook – ahead of Rosh Hashana last week posted: “Yippee, it’s the New Year. Time to party!!! Oh hang on a mo, we’re Jewish. That means a 48 hour guilt trip inter-dispersed with gargantuan bouts of eating.”
Yom Kippur, of course, is a shorter but even more intense guilt trip – a 25-hour marathon of fasting, praying and saying we’re sorry (before sitting down to a big meal).
The 10 days that separate the two holidays are characterized by a unique period of heshbon nefesh, soul searching.
Since there is no point in a guilt trip if it doesn’t take you anywhere, here are some reflections on the year just over and thoughts for the year ahead.
Peace and security
At the end of 5772, the government began to redistribute gas-mask kits to Israeli citizens. Being prepared is good: The words “Yom Kippur,” after all, became synonymous with being taken by surprise by our enemies on the holiest day of the Jewish calendar in 1973. Nor were we prepared six years ago when hostilities with Hezbollah flared into a full-fledged war.
Even without the question of Iran, there is a possibility of non-conventional weapons being used by either Hezbollah in Lebanon or as a diversionary tactic by Bashar Assad’s dying (yet murderous) regime in Syria. Many people talk of the fear that non-conventional weapons could fall into “the wrong hands,” as if there were “right hands” for them to fall into: Which undemocratic, unstable regime don’t you mind being armed for chemical and biological warfare?
And then there’s the Iranian issue. Nowhere would be safe if that Islamist regime is equipped with doomsday weapons. The Arab Gulf states, in fact, are as concerned as Israel – and this is perhaps our chance to create and strengthen alliances there which will not only rid the world of the ayatallohs’ atomic threat but help further regional peace.
The Iron Dome anti-missile missile went into action last year and quickly marked up considerable success. There were undoubtedly other success stories of which we are not yet aware – failures are unavoidably noticeable, it’s the thwarted attacks that we don’t necessarily hear about.
Terror struck last year as in previous years. Two particularly dastardly incidents stand out: the attack in March on a Jewish day school in Toulouse, France – where an eight-year-old girl and a father and two of his children were killed simply for being Jews – and the bombing in July at the Bulgarian resort of Burgas, where five tourists were blown up along with their bus driver and guide because you can’t take a break from being Jewish or Israeli.
Defense is not complete without deterrence – and for that we need more than a little help from our friends.
Above all, we need to remember that the real enemy is sitting smirking in Tehran, not in the White House in Washington or the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem.
My (humble) advice to the country’s leadership: Pick your battles, don’t create new ones.
Even in Israel, defense and security are only half of the picture. Social security also has a role. The outgoing year saw an unprecedented struggle for the rights of contract workers culminating in an agreement between the Histadrut labor organization and the Finance Ministry that goes a long way to redressing the problems. Yet there are still too many people whose jobs are precarious and conditions inappropriate.
While managing to survive the global recession without too much harm, Israel is not immune to the changes sweeping the world (a fact that no journalist can ignore). Now is the time for our famous adaptability and inventiveness.
Social welfare
“Ha’am doresh tzedek hevrati” – the people demand social justice. The rhythmic chant accompanied the summer of 2011 but faded last fall. The problems, however, did not go away. Moshe Silman, who set himself on fire during one of the attempts to revive the social protests, possibly harmed the cause more than he helped it. The majority of people – those struggling to balance the rising cost of living with increasingly expensive tastes and lifestyles – were stunned by such a drastic act, which owed more to a tortured mind than the bureaucratic runaround of which he complained.
There is a place for private entrepreneurship and many charities do tremendous work, but ultimately the government needs to ensure that there is a safety net so that those who find themselves falling have a chance of bouncing back.
This year (finally) saw the welcome extension of free education to include three-year-olds and up. But we should be wary of turning schools into babysitters: simply a place to deposit the kids while parents go out to work. Values need to be shared and education – in the fullest sense – begins at home. Under Minister Gideon Sa’ar, the school system seems to be redefining its goals. His directive greatly reducing exam pressure in the lower grades is also a good move – there’s a difference between fostering a spirit of achievement and competitiveness and placing the sort of pressure on a six-year-old that could ruin a love of learning forever.
Much discussion this year focused on ensuring that ultra-Orthodox schools teach the “core subjects” – math, Hebrew, English and science. State schools, too, should not lose sight of what is essential as opposed to what is fashionable and make sure pupils are taught what they really need to know.
Law and order
A former president went to prison last year, proving nobody is above the law, but a former prime minister considered a partial acquittal on corruption charges to be a victory – demonstrating that we have a way to go until we internalize the true importance of law and justice.
We have one of the few capital cities in the world where a woman can walk out on her own at night without fear. But there have been a growing number of violent incidents – fueled by alcohol, drugs, an overinflated sense of honor and ego, and plain disgusting racism.
Marginal youth can be found in any country – but that’s no excuse for letting them get away with more and more until (heaven forbid) it comes to murder.
The time has come to clean up our act when it comes to waste management, pollution prevention, preservation, and the proper planning of infrastructure.
Environmental considerations are not a luxury – they are as much a part of ensuring a future as education, as essential to safety as a strong army.
IN 5772, Dan Shechtman brought home a Nobel Prize for chemistry and disabled former IAF pilot Noam Gershony struck gold at the Paralympics; Joseph Cedar’s Footnote was shortlisted for an Oscar and Israeli actors and directors won awards and applause around the world, while chess master Boris Gelfand narrowly missed being crowned world champion after a series of tense tiebreaker games – broadcast live on Israel Radio.
At the beginning of last year, Gilad Schalit was brought home – at a price – from five years of Hamas captivity. May 5773 bring at least closure to those families who still do not know the fates of their missing loved ones. Above all, may this be a year of peace, prosperity and growth, and may all our soul searching set us on a positive path.
The writer is editor of The International Jerusalem Post. [email protected]