After the Israeli elections: A sacred path to peace

Israelis have begun the process of returning to the spiritual roots not only of the Zionist dream, but of Judaism itself.

311_jewish women learning (photo credit: Lydia Polimeni)
311_jewish women learning
(photo credit: Lydia Polimeni)
We have a real reason to be hopeful about Israel’s future. My optimism springs not simply from the victory of the “radical center” in Israeli politics; the real victory in Israel is a move to national teshuvah (repentance) in the best sense of the term – returning to our essence as a Jewish people. That essence is the idea that our peoplehood – our affirmation of community itself – is the strongest and best path to peace.
There are those who have argued that Yair Lapid’s success in the Yesh Atid party represents an act of erecting blinders to the real and pressing issues of national security.
They see the election results pointing only more deeply to a national cynicism about a meaningful peace. In fact, the opposite is true.
It may be correct that Israelis are tired of a leadership committed only to reactive, tactical policies against our enemies. It may be that Israelis see a lack of genuine strategic measures to achieve real peace. They are indeed growing weary of a lack of visionary leadership. They are witnessing an ever-polarizing Israeli society between Left and Right, between Orthodox and secular. They are finding their country defined more by war and defense than by normal concerns and problems.
And so, in substantive ways, Israelis have shifted. They have begun the process of returning to the spiritual roots not only of the Zionist dream, but of Judaism itself. It was Hillel who asked, “If not now, when?” The time has come for Israelis to begin to imagine a society not defined by a struggle to survive, and to create the kind of society they want for themselves, to live in a more just and balanced kind of Israel.
THIS PRAGMATIC envisioning of a healthy, hopeful and just society began even before the ancient Israelites reached the Land of Israel. When God announced the final Egyptian plague, the slaying of the firstborn, the narrative interrupts the high drama and terrifying conditions of the night to list a series of detailed instructions on how the redemption from slavery will be marked for all future generations.
Despite being surrounded – quite literally – by death, the Israelites are to affirm the future.
They affirm, even with no certainty at all that they will survive the night, that their children and children’s children will look back with gratitude for their deliverance. This same process is unfolding in Israel today.
What we’re witnessing right now in Israel is the farthest thing from national cynicism; the core optimism of the Jewish spirit.
We’re witnessing the rejection of national Israeli identity shaped only by the wounds of the Holocaust, the agony of terrorism, and the dread of hostile neighbors. We’re witnessing the rising up of the very mystery that has sustained us for 3,000 years: our faith that our peoplehood has a sacred purpose.
It is the belief that we can and will survive by the strength of a community that seeks, at all costs, to affirm life’s preciousness and blessing.
We Jews here in America, and around the world must support this emerging affirmation of life and community in the Jewish state and celebrate it. A very Jewish kind of wisdom is emerging in Israel, one that recognizes that despite the stark societal contrasts and divisions, despite the real security threats, peace begins with a community that treasures its every member. Peace begins when we cease to focus only on fear and instead create a society worth achieving peace for. It’s happening right now.
Let’s make sure that Israel’s peaceful future takes shape right here and now.
The writer is the senior rabbi at Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, DC.