Sunday, January 01, 2006

The Orange Ray of Hope

I sometimes ask my wife how she feels about being Jewish. The question isn't as facile as you might think. When your Jewishness is the result of your personal decision and not an inheritance from your parents and grandaparents, the very idea of Jewishness takes on an additional flavour and import. I like to ask my wife (and somethimes my children who don't have patience for their father's introspection) to have a basis of comparison, or perhaps to benefit from the "grounding" she/they provide.

Most Torah knowledgeable Jews know that classically, wantabe converts to Judaism are discouraged. When a candidate for conversion comes to the Rabbinic Court (Beit Din), traditionally the Beit Din describes the difficulties of life as a Jew, the persecutions, the exiles and the general insecurity of life as a Jew in a hostile world. If the candidate demonstrates a good knowledge of Judaism and is sincere in their desire to become a Jew, but especially despite the Beit Din's exhortations the candidate still asks to be accepted, normally the Beit Din accepts them.

Converting and making Aliyah in 1972, before the Yom Kippur War and quickly identifying with the 'National Religious' movement shortly after my arrival in Israel, the dire warnings of the Beit Din seems some how anachronistic and out-of-step with the reality in which I found myself here in Israel. Israel survived the three major challenges to her existence, the War of Independence, the Six Day War and the Yom Kippur War. As an economy Israel succeeded in branching out beyond the initial exporter of agricultural products toward the exploitation of the Jewish People's most valuable commodity - Jewish intellect! Moreover, as a Jew who valued Jewish tradition and scholarship this period marked the greatest expansion of Torah learning of any time in Jewish history.

Today, with the approaching showdown between those Jews who came to Israel to live Jewish lives and those Jews who appear bent on turning Israel into a secular "democracry of all its citizens", I seriously wonder where my family's future lies. The systematic effort on the part of the anti-Jewish forces to dismantle the system of religious services in the state by closing down the Ministry of Religious Affairs. The systematic disenfranchisement of not only the "Ultra Religious" (non-Zionist) but also the National Religious camp by cutting funding to religious schools by 70%, when the per-capita funding was lower than that to non-religious schools before the cut! The systematic effort to make it increasingly difficult to both serve in the IDF and remain true to the ideals of Jewish faith. The systematic recruitment of the media in the promotion of one side of the great nationa debate and the effective silencing of all voices of opposition. And then finally, ultimate challenge to the realization of the Jewish People's millenium old aspiration to live in the Land of Israel, the exile and destruction of the communities of Gush Kastif, and the growing threat of the exile of similar destruction of Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria.

With all due respect to the befuddled Israeli's who do not have a deep and meaningful Jewish identity, I would never have fought in three wars, nor will I encourage my children to risk their lives to defend a travesty of democracry which systematically promotes values antithetical to those we believe in. If the "Israeli's" and their Christian and Muslim friends want to defend the right of the ruling oligarchy to continue to disenfranchise them and to exploit the resources of the state to enrich the few while the many grow increasingly impoverished ... there is no logical reason why I should join them. I was willing to live with Israel's "imperfections" as long as I had hope that eventually we would gradually succeed in correcting the many "deficiencies", as long as I felt there was a genuine dialogue between the "Jews" and the "Israeli's". With the growing one-sidedness of the "debate" and the systematic exploitation of government sanctioned force to enforce government decisions not arrived at through a popular vote - my hopes for a more Jewish, more democratic more just State of Israel are rapidly waning.

The one real ray of light in the growing struggle between those who want a Jewish state and those who want a state devoid of anything except empty lip-service to Jewishness, are the "Orange". These, predominately youthfull, passionately idealistic people just might have the key to saving the soul of a Jewish Israel.