Israel at 70: What’s next?

As Israel turns 70, we must focus on not taking one of the most basic elements of Israeli life for granted.

An ultra-Orthodox man watches planes fly overhead. (photo credit: REUTERS)
An ultra-Orthodox man watches planes fly overhead.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
As Israel turns 70, our country reflects upon its successes and celebrates how much has been accomplished over these seven decades.
At the same time, we must look to the future and ask ourselves: What’s next? After building a strong and thriving country, what should we – the Jewish people in the State of Israel – strive to accomplish over the next 70 years? Our prophets made clear that the people and Land of Israel are not meant to enjoy its successes alone but are expected to share them with the world as a “light unto the nations.” We have most certainly begun the process of living up to that lofty goal, with Israeli technology helping people around the world including in the significant fields of medical and humanitarian assistance. But we can also fulfill our mission to be a light unto the nations via more basic aspects of Israeli life.
Oftentimes I attend dinners with members of parliament from around the world, who are visiting Israel as part of a diplomatic delegation. These dinners always provide insight as we discuss the various challenges facing each of our countries and learn from one another’s ideas and solutions.
A recent dinner with MPs from the United Kingdom proved to be much more. We were discussing the incredible resilience of the people of Israel, and how we continue to thrive despite the security challenges that engulf us. One of the MPs suddenly remarked: “The secret to your success is your Friday night dinners.”
He saw the look of surprise on my face and explained: “The uniqueness of Israel is that families – whether religious or secular – sit down together every Friday night and simply talk. Sadly, that doesn’t happen elsewhere on a national level, and that is the secret to Israel’s success.”
I was stunned.
Another MP continued where the first left off, saying that families communicating on a weekly basis, revolving around some level of tradition, gives children a feeling that they are part of something deeper than themselves. They have family. They have a nation. They have tradition. They have a joint history and destiny. This gives them a sense of purpose, drives a spirit of giving, and leads to children thinking about what they can do for their nation, instead of just thinking about themselves.
AS SHE spoke, I recalled the words that David Ben-Gurion offered before the Peel Commission in 1936, as the British were trying to determine what to do with Palestine: “Three hundred years ago, there came to the New World a boat, and its name was the Mayflower. The Mayflower’s landing on Plymouth Rock was one of the great historical events in the history of England and in the history of America. But I would like to ask any Englishman sitting here on the commission, what day did the Mayflower leave port? What date was it? I’d like to ask the Americans: do they know what date the Mayflower left port in England? How many people were on the boat? Who were their leaders? What kind of food did they eat on the boat? “More than 3,300 years ago, long before the Mayflower, our people left Egypt, and every Jew in the world, wherever he is, knows what day they left. And he knows what food they ate. And we still eat that food every anniversary. And we know who our leader was. And we sit down and tell the story to our children and grandchildren in order to guarantee that it will never be forgotten.
And we say our two slogans: ‘Now we may be enslaved, but next year we’ll be a free people.’... That is the nature of the Jewish people.”
I told the MPs that the Seder we just experienced is the ultimate expression of what Friday night meals accomplish.
They then began discussing how to import weekly family dinner and mandatory national service to Britain. I was amazed by what I was hearing. As they discussed various ideas, I began to understand a much deeper part of our mission as a light unto the nations. Technology is wonderful.
Improving and saving lives around the world is remarkable. But Israel can actually be a model for the world regarding family and tradition and living beyond oneself.
We live in a generation in which the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders has officially removed narcissism as a psychological disorder, because it has become so mainstream.
The world is in need of inspiration to turn this around. Israel can be that source of light.
As Israel turns 70, we must focus on not taking one of the most basic elements of Israeli life for granted. Both secular and religious must work to strengthen our tradition of Friday night and holiday family meals, to help make sure they endure over future generations. We must focus on telling our story to our children and grandchildren and fill them with national pride and commitment to service. We must recognize that these traditions are one more gift we give to the world, and we should talk about them openly, with great pride, in every possible forum.
The author served as a member of the 19th Knesset with the Yesh Atid party.