Reflecting on Israel (JERUSALEM POST OP-ED) By ILANA BROWN 04/30/12)
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Springtime in Israel brings us Passover, reminding us that once we
were slaves in Egypt, and that after overcoming many challenges and
wandering in the desert, we learned how to be a free people. Almost
immediately afterward, Holocaust Remembrance Day reminds us of our
history, Remembrance Day for Fallen Soldiers reminds us of the
struggles we have overcome and Independence Day reminds us that we
are a free people in our land. This month of commemoration and
celebration is a time every year for the people of Israel to reflect
about how far we have come and where we should be going.
“Next Year in Jerusalem!” This line from the end of the Passover
Haggada reminds all Jews around the world that Jerusalem is the place
our collective Jewish heart yearns for.
In May 1948, the dream of a Jewish homeland in this special place was
realized and in the midst of war the building of a state had only
just begun. One of our greatest challenges is also one of our
greatest accomplishments. We have created a Jewish and democratic
state. A strictly democratic state with no religious character is not
much of a Jewish homeland and rejects the call to the land of Israel,
but a state with only a Jewish character is a theocracy. Thus a
tension exists – and must exist – in order for these opposing forces
to balance one another.
Spending a week in Israel will give any visitor the impression of
what it is to live within the rhythm of a Jewish life.
Six days a week there is activity, commerce, the daily hustle and
bustle of life.
And on the seventh day, Shabbat, there is a national quietness that
separates this day from the rest of the week. The holiday periods are
in spring and fall as opposed to, for instance, the US, where the
holiday period is between Thanksgiving and the New Year. Individuals
connect to Judaism in a variety of ways – religiously, culturally,
linguistically and even culinarily – making it nearly impossible to
define exactly how the Jewish character of the state should be
However, Israel is still a country of its citizens. Not all the
citizens of Israel are religiously observant and some are not Jewish.
Citizens have a right to vote and are represented in the government.
It is a democracy, an imperfect one, but a democracy nonetheless.
In a state that has been in existence merely 64 years and has been in
conflict with its neighbors for a majority of that time, the standard
to which Israel is held is not one of mere democracy, but rather a
saintly, benevolent form of democracy. The standard required of
Israel by Israel’s critics is that we must allow foreign nationals to
come into our country to protest Israeli policies; that anyone who
has an opinion must be allowed free and full access to the media
regardless of motive or accuracy; that any defensive measure should
be considered a violation of human rights; and most of all, that
Israel must accept any and all criticism without recourse or
explanation. Moreover, any suggestion of hypocrisy against the
accuser simply invites more vitriol.
DEMOCRACY DOES not mean that every single person in the country has
unlimited freedom to do whatever he wishes. Democracy means that the
people elect representatives to the government to serve for the good
of the people.
In this we have an unwritten social contract that says all of us need
to give up some of our freedom in order to live in an orderly, fair
society. The social contract in Israel includes both Jewish and
democratic values. Again, the tension exists to balance one against
Thus, shops are closed on Shabbat, but restaurants are not required
by law to be kosher. Egged, the national bus line, does not run on
Shabbat, but a system of service taxis makes travel possible. Grocery
stores will arrange their shelves in accordance with Passover
restrictions against leavened foods, but will follow the less
restrictive Sephardi tradition.
The rabbinate is a problematic organization for many citizens of
Israel, but Israel will recognize civil marriages that took place
abroad. The Law of Return recognizes anyone with at least one
grandparent as a Jew rather than on the requirement by Jewish law of
strictly matrilineal descent.
The Zionist dream is to build a national homeland and the work is not
yet complete. The State of Israel exists. It exists with the special
tension of holding onto a Jewish character and upholding the values
of democracy. But it is far from perfect
Just as Israel stood together during the siren to commemorate the six
million who did not live to see Israel arise, we should remember that
in their memory, we established a state. As we stand during the two
sirens to commemorate the soldiers who fought to protect the Land of
Israel, we should remember that in their honor we are striving to
improve our state. And when we finally arrive to Independence Day, we
should be inspired by the fireworks to look to the possibilities of
the future. The state has arisen, but the Zionist dream is not yet
The writer lives and works in Jerusalem and volunteers for Im Tirtzu.
(© 1995-2011, The Jerusalem Post 04/30/12)
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