On violence, inequality, education and Zionism

We educate in our interaction with the cashier at the supermarket, we educate in the bleachers at the soccer stadium.

Parent and child (photo credit: Thinkstock)
Parent and child
(photo credit: Thinkstock)
He was murdered when he went downstairs to ask for quiet, she was raped in the center of Tel Aviv, a young woman was stabbed, an elderly Holocaust survivor was attacked and robbed. These are only some of the headlines from newspapers and broadcasts that have been hitting us lately.
I’ll start from the end. The bad news is that it’s only coincidence that you are not among these headlines. The good news is that I think you can influence the situation.
How many times have you heard friends saying that they do not feel safe walking the streets, that they’ve stopped going to soccer games, and that they certainly don’t allow their children to play in the neighborhood or in the local park, like we once played? The violence can really harm every one of us, and not because people are worse than before. The great educator Janus Korczak once said that there is not a bad child, there is a child in a bad situation.
And in Israel today there are too many people in bad situations. They are in bad situations because they are impoverished, they are in bad situations because they are refugees, they are in bad situations because they are different than they majority which surrounds them. I of course am not justifying the violence, but I understand its source.
And we have become more indifferent. Until not long ago we thought that if we took care of ourselves, studied, entered a respectable profession, had a big house, a fancy car and a larger television screen than our neighbor’s, we would be okay.
It seems today that this bubble is bursting when we understand that the many that we leave behind – because of predatory economics, because we don’t know how to absorb immigrants, and because we are not tolerant of those different from us – they are those that threaten us in spite of our “personal” success.
“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference... And the opposite of life is not death, but indifference,” stated Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel. Indifference is our disease and danger, and until we understand that almost everything is our personal problem, and until we take care of our society together, we will be in constant danger of being among the headlines or the news broadcasts.
The country’s visionary, Binyamin Ze’ev Herzl, did not just speak about the physical gathering of the Jews in the Jewish state, but possibly more than that he spoke about the model society that they would establish. The Jews were not just brought out of the exile, but the exile was brought out of the Jews. That is our mission today.
And it is a personal mission.
British researcher Richard Wilkinson has proven the strong correlation between low violence and equality in a society, and also the very weak correlation between violence and a country’s GDP. The smaller the gaps between rich and poor – the less violence.
Unfortunately we today know that not only is Israel one of the western countries with the largest gaps, but also that these gaps have been growing year by year for over a full generation now. So it is for all of us to strive for narrowing the gap through a meaningful change in the socio-economic system in this country. The much-needed social protest movement gives us many hopes toward a better future to this society.
As an educator I believe that we are all educators.
Not just the secondary-school teacher and the kindergarten teacher. We are educators by virtue of our behavior. We educate in our interaction with the cashier at the supermarket, we educate in the bleachers at the soccer stadium. And now a tough, personal decision must be made: To be willing to be the exceptions for a short while. To generously allow another driver to merge into the lane. To be respectful and to ask “what’s up,” and not just curse and insult. The result of it all will be good for everyone, many will join in this “odd” behavior.
It’s not (only) a question for leaders and politicians, and it’s true that too many of them are not a symbol and flag of appropriate conduct. This is our mission, this is our Zionism. Less indifference, more tolerance, more solidarity will bring, within a short while, a reduction in violence.
Let us start now. It will be worth it for all of us.
The writer is an educator, social activist and member of an Educators Kibbutz in the Dror Israel Movement.