Is it over? Is corona over?
With a lot of hesitation and trepidation, I am tempted to say that we are nearing the point of leaving the Egypt we have been in over for the last year and just about ready to build our nation anew. But how can we build back better and make Israel great again? What can we do to strengthen our nation as we get back on our journey?
In order to answer that, let us first identify what, well, plagues us. In a recent study commissioned by Gesher, the overwhelming majority (65%) of Israelis ranked the Haredi-secular conflict as the most pressing facing us today. By far.
That compares to less than 18% and 14% respectively who think the Arab-Israeli conflict or the Right-Left conflict is what most challenges us. I can’t say that I am surprised. Just casually perusing some of the media channels over the last few months made clear that the individual sectors in Israeli society weren’t exactly cheering for one another.
I received an email this week from an old friend that, I think, sums up the feelings of many non-haredim.
“I am losing hope in this sector of our population. Where once I thought we were brothers – although many haredim would not see me or you for that matter as a “genuine” Jew – in fact their election campaign compared “my kind” to a dog in a way that reminded me of 1930s propaganda. I wonder what I have in common... less than ever. What can I say to my children to help them understand that we’re in the same boat? On the same side? I’m not sure what common ground we have. I’m tired of turning the other cheek and being the one who has to understand. It’s time haredim in Israel understand the world they live in and help in uniting instead of dividing.”
Fair enough. One can’t argue with how someone feels. But then, I had a conversation with a haredi friend who felt similarly disheartened:
“Where was the outcry when Liberman called us garbage? How come it’s okay for the Israel Democracy Institute to discuss the plight of the haredim without even one representative from the haredi community? Did we have some in our community who didn’t follow all of the guidelines? Of course. But every community did! How come all of the pictures accompanying the articles showed only the haredim?”
My friends’ sentiments aligned with the study, confirming for me that most Israelis were quick to find reasons to blame others for their problems. Religious coercion, secular coercion, the media, politicians… too few take responsibility for themselves or their communities. It is always someone else’s fault.
SO HOW can we as individuals and as a society begin to look inward, re-think our insular perspective and accusatory reflexes, and change the discourse across the board?
This past year provides an incredible lesson that can get us on our way.
Over the course of the corona crisis, we learned how intertwined we all are. With very little effort, any one of us could have contracted corona and passed it on unknowingly to others. To effectively battle the virus, we needed to take precautions with tactics not only to protect ourselves, but to protect others from us. Sometimes we did that well. But too often, we failed. And we saw the results in each new wave. Corona served as a wakeup call that sometimes in order to help and protect others and society as a whole, we need to change our own behavior.
When sitting around the Seder table, we remind ourselves of when we left Egypt as many individuals and went on to become a nation unified. As per our tradition, we do this by asking questions to one another and even to ourselves if no one else is dining together with us.
As we rebuild our nation after a year in which tensions within our ranks reached threatening new heights, let us ask what we will do differently this time. What new lessons can we incorporate into Am Yisrael?
Whatever one’s answer, let us hope that together we can shed the senseless hatred and vilification of “the other” further amplified by yet another nasty election season and replace it with care and love for others.
I suspect we can do that by changing ourselves.
The writer is the international director of Gesher, www.gesher.co.il/en