Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Between Hope and Despair

Afternoon AssemblyI've been trying to find the words to articulate my feelings after last week's amazing experience at Kefar Maimon. Perhaps the best way is to relate a conversation I had with an acquaintance on the way home last week.

My acquaintance probably saw on my face the tremendous wave of confused emotions I was experiencing and sought to draw me out, in the hope that talking about it might help me cope. His question was a simple open-ended: "So what do you think of all of this?"

Without hesitation or forethought the words came out as if on their own: "I'm trapped somewhere between despair and hope!"

"On one hand," I explained, "I feel like I'm in mourning over the demise of everything I came to this country to help realize - a Zionist Jewish Israel that accepted the democratic process as the most effective means of managing a pluralistic society." With the government's decision to utilize twenty thousand soldiers to stifle legitimate political protest, with the no longer veiled threats by the police to use violence including the use of weapons to "control" the protest, I felt we had crossed a line from which there is no return.

The future of Israel society will be determined by your adherence to the modern idol of "Secular Democracy" with no room for religious or conscientious objection. The funding for religious high schools has already been cut by 70% starting September. The Ministry of Religious Affairs dismantled with no alternative put in place to ensure that public mikvaot remain open or that community rabbi's receive some minimal stipend. Yeshivot Hesder that feel there is a conflict between the dictates of Judaism and the commands given by the army will be closed. Soldiers who are torn between their love of the Land and the People and find it hard to act against the very People they believe they joined the IDF to protect will be blackballed out of active service. Whenever the police decide they "suspect" a kippa wearer of "wrong intentions" they can forcefully remove them from public transport, temporarily revoke their driver's license and/or incarcerate them for 48 hours without arraignment.

"On the other hand the events of Kefar Maimon open up a basis for hope!" I explained. For the first time since I came to Israel in 1974 an entire community of forty thousand like minded individuals publicly declared that they are no longer willing to sit on the side lines and watch the State of Israel divest itself of every connection to Jewishness and the values of Zionism that the state was founded on. This public expression of idealism, coupled with the willingness to physically suffer in its expression, that gives me hope that Israel's future might overcome the darkness that encompasses us.

Maybe the excesses of the overly autocratic authorities in abusing their powers to stifle legitimate political protest will help wake up the broad masses that sit in relative apathy in front of their televisions.

With that extended monologue my acquaintance wished me the traditional Jewish blessing: "May we only hear good things from each other" as both of us boarded our respective buses.

The other source of emotional ambiguity is my experience with the thousands, no the tens of thousands of young people during the week at Kefar Maimon. On one hand I felt a great sadness that they, as well as my children, are forced to face such a bitter and unjust struggle. On the other hand, their passionate idealism and willingness to absorb actual physical blows with absolute no intent in returning them provided me a source of pride and hope. Whatever the net result of the struggle over Gush Katif and the Northern Shomron, twenty years from now the future of Israel will be in the hands of these young idealists. If I survive to see it, I know now that Israel will be a more democratic and just society than the oligarchy it is today.

The theme song of these vibrant and valiant young people sums up the message of hope in one line: "The Eternal People isn't afraid of a long road".