Where have all the role models gone?

It's hard to figure how a well-meaning parent could finish the sentence: 'I want you to grow up to be just like - '

bobby kennedy 88 (photo credit: )
bobby kennedy 88
(photo credit: )
Growing up in the '60s, my brother and I literally had someone to look up to in our room: a black-and-white portrait of the Kennedy brothers, Jack and Bobby, dominated one wall. While our parents perhaps didn't share the pair's peccadilloes with us, which only emerged later, they still obviously felt that the two were worthy of serving as role models for their boys to emulate. Our educators agreed, handing out copies of PT 109 for us to read and having us memorize speeches by Martin Luther King. But an Israeli parent looking for a similar portrait to hang up in their children's bedroom these days would be hard-pressed to find one. Indeed, with leaders in almost every sphere of our daily lives - politics, the army, the civil service, the rabbinate, sports, and even the police - coming under scrutiny for a plethora of alleged offenses, it's hard to figure how a well-meaning parent could finish the sentence: "I want you to grow up to be just like - ." The result appears to be our youngsters' completely cynical view of the world around them. While they still do great things, volunteering for the toughest jobs in the army or making us proud with discoveries in the world of hi-tech, the lack of role models on the national scene sets a bad example and confuses them about what's really important in life. TURN ON the radio or TV or pick up the newspaper, and you're very likely to hear or read about a local politician, sports figure or other individual in the public eye being questioned about some funny business. Meanwhile, the height of achievement increasingly trumpeted into Israeli homes is winning a song or dance contest, or having the fanciest cell phone. A recent news item featured Israeli school kids eagerly asking mom whether she'd remembered to bring home the latest European designer clothes for their closets, while across Israel hundreds of their counterparts struggle to keep warm without proper winter clothing their parents simply can't afford. Maybe we shouldn't be so concerned. After all, most kids' heroes traditionally are sports personalities or rock, movie or TV stars. Even in our own childhood we all wanted to be the Beatles or Mickey Mantle, didn't we? So what if our kids don't have national leaders worth admiring? Maybe. But I like to think that if my 17-year-old is about to put his body on the line for his country, he ought to feel pretty good about where that country's going. And when our young people see the corruption all around them, they can't but feel that there's something very rotten in the country they're being called on to serve and defend. There's evidence this is the case. We hear more stories of young people trying to avoid army service altogether. While this is a phenomenon that should be strongly condemned, who can say that the hair-raising testimony of foul-ups during the recent Lebanon war emerging from the current probes of that conflict shouldn't lead our young people to wonder just what kind of army they will be joining? On a wider level, a look around them can only lead our youth to question whether the country still has any moral compass left. From the Ashkenazi chief rabbi to our chief executive to the soccer field, allegations of corruption and worse make us all shake our heads and speculate just how true the old maxim, "Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely" may be. MAYBE ALL'S not lost in the search for role models - we're just not looking in the right places. There are still countless Israelis, including many young people, doing admirable work far away from the headlines. They find time every day to visit the sick, volunteer at soup kitchens, or ride with Magen David Adom. Their actions certainly deserve more media attention. More of us should take a lesson from them, rather than seeking inspiration and direction from the latest TV magician. Still, wouldn't it be nice if we didn't have to spend so much time explaining to our children just why a particular former minister is defending himself in court, or why the top soccer pools prize was suddenly reduced by three-quarters because of allegations of match-fixing? And while we might not put their pictures up on our children's bedroom wall, wouldn't it be great if more people regularly in the headlines were made of the kind of moral fiber that would allow us to point them out to our kids and say unreservedly: "What a mensch. Learn from that person."