The Human Spirit: Learning from conflicts past

The answers to what had shattered such dedicated settlers seemed counterintuitive.

barbara sofer 88 (photo credit: )
barbara sofer 88
(photo credit: )
Thinking about the bitter split between members of the kibbutz movement 50 years ago, I went back to source material to refresh my memory about what exactly caused the traumatic rupture that resulted in kibbutzim breaking into two. The answer was elusive. Kibbutz pioneers had overcome formidable physical and security challenges in establishing and maintaining their settlements. Their societies were based on resolving disagreements by debating every issue, big or small, whether the subject was which crop to cultivate or how to comfort a crying child. Yet they were willing to tear apart their beloved, hard-won homes in a disengagement so painful that marriages failed and siblings refused to speak to each other ever again. As hard as I tried to pin down what had shattered such dedicated settlers, the answers seemed counterintuitive. Would kibbutzim really subject themselves to such painful and long-lasting fissures over issues like ideal settlement size, the nature of educational and cultural committees, how to relate to Joseph Stalin, or the politics of Mapai versus Mapam? It's hard for us today to appreciate how much importance was placed on what sound like nuances of socialism and Zionism. But in our early years of statehood, socialist ideology was as potent as religion to the kibbutzniks who were able to overcome rocky terrain and droughts, and face hunger, because they believed that, in addition to settling the land of the Bible, they were creating a model for the world. Today mellower kibbutz members have blended into a single movement. Revisiting the fierce and acrimonious ideological conflicts of our past is a useful exercise in gaining perspective and ultimately healing the rifts that loom large in Israel today. First, we can recognize our tendency to take ideological differences so seriously that we're willing to threaten the very fabric of society. Second, looking at the past might suggest the humility that our positions aren't the only correct ones, let alone sacred. OUR LONG-TIME, Right-Left dinner-time debating patterns on territorial concessions changed first with the intifada and then with the actual concessions being carried out by the government of the political Right. What has replaced the debating is a caustic chorus of criticism of the government from both Right and Left. I'm concerned about how this contempt for Israel's regime not necessarily the policies of any particular government is being internalized by our children. For example, at a holiday dinner gathering, a bright and articulate young woman spoke with such passionate derision about the government and the total corruption of all public bodies that you might have thought she was a foreign anarchist here on a fact-finding trip. As it turned out, she is serving in Sherut Leumi, the National Service alternative to the army, and the area of her chosen voluntarism is a major governmental institution, work that she is enjoying and values highly. She didn't see the contradiction. I was stunned by her obvious alienation and the ease with which she was willing to trash our government. In congratulating a young friend about being named the outstanding soldier in her class of graduating IDF officers, I heard the details of her graduating ceremony. Assembled near the Western Wall, the women soldiers encountered verbal and physical attacks from teenagers who realized the women soldiers had taken part in the evacuation. They attacked the young officer and then abused her mother who'd come for the ceremony. “You should be ashamed to have a daughter like this!” they screamed at her. I ask you: Whose parent would you be ashamed to be? That a group of self-important teenagers felt empowered to attack newly minted officers in the IDF reflects an internalization of rhetoric which demeans and demonizes the IDF and the State of Israel. The ease of dispatching teenagers to political struggles is too easy and has resulted in their loss of allegiance to democratic regime and our own defense forces. The continual depiction of the Sharon government as the arch-villain bungling every aspect of the resettlement is also too easy. Anyone who has personally experienced aliya or who has heard an aliya bureaucracy story or has seen an aliya movie, from Sallah Shabati to Turn Left At the End of the World shouldn't be surprised that governments aren't good at tasks which require fine-tuning. But demanding that our government do better is different from attributing evil intent. Some may see the need for countless synagogue congregations, non-profit organizations and individual volunteers to provide help to the evacuees rather than the government filling this role as a weakness of our society. I see it as a strength. We can't complain incessantly about Israel's regime without making our children feel like strangers in their own land. The days after Yom Kippur are a grace period in which we haven't yet accumulated new negative deeds. Let us insist on a more positive tone in the discussions that will fill our succot, themselves reminders of our shared past and the vicissitude of our fortunes, to overcome the arrogance with which we sanctify our own opinions. We can't afford decades to realize, as have the kibbutzniks, that what we have in common far outweighs our differences.