Sunday, March 27, 2011

If We Will It, We Can Achieve Herzl's Other Dream

"It is true that we aspire to an ancient land but what we want in that ancient land is a new blossoming of the Jewish spirit."
Theodore Herzl

Today Israel made it's Iron Dome operational. We all pray that it effectively ends the threat of short and longer range missile attacks, much as the security fence has defended Israelis from suicide bombers.

But 21st century Star Wars technology can not be effective if it is protecting a 19th century shtetl society. Actually, the shtetl gets a bad rap - it was a churning cauldron of diversity - free expression at its best, with fiery debates among Hasidim, rabbinic scholars, early Zionists and socialists. Israel currently has debates too, but some seek to stifle them, just as free expression is exploding all around them, even in Syria.

Herzl could not have imagined how advanced Israel would become technologically. He also could not have imagined a Jewish state that would have shunned his entire family (most of whom turned out not to be Jewish), or an Israeli society that would be sick enough to censor Amos Oz, one of its great writers, a man responsible for the flowering of that new Jewish spirit. Or a state where Religious Services Minister Ya’acov Margi would advocate legislation banningf non-Orthodox movements, “to determine by law that there are no streams in Judaism, only one that has been passed down to us from generation to generation.”

The new Jewish spirit that Herzl envisioned is possible. It is blossoming in small pockets, both there and here. Let's make sure it can grow. A new world is opening up.

How ironic that the sole fatality from last week's Jerusalem bombing was a Scottish Christian, 59 year old Mary Jean Gardner.

That painful irony has not stifled the cries of those who think Jews are the only victims of incitement and hate. Read about her. Her life is an inspiration. Why is it that then only story about her that I could find on the right wing Arutz 7 website was that the British government is planning to donate a water scooter to the ZAKA Rescue Team in her memory? Where is the tribute to her courage, her love for humanity? Is her death being shortchanged because she is Christian? A missionary? British? Or simply because she is not Jewish? Her death did not follow the script: Jewish victims die because the world hates us, which justifies our insularity and chauvinism. There are some in Israel who actually believe that Jewish blood is redder, that Jewish souls are purer. In the 21st century, we call that racism. In this shrunken planet, you either learn to coexist or you build ghetto walls. There is no place for superior souls beneath the Iron Dome.

Gardner was the type of victim we're used to seeing on the Palestinian side. We now have our own inverse version of Rachel Corrie; Gardner was a victim of Palestinian terror, a woman who loved Israel, who loved Jerusalem, who died among Jews who were targeted by this evil. But she also spent the better part of two decades teaching the Bible in Togo, rather than Talmud in Tekoa. Sorry. Not our Bible. She doesn't fit the profile. She's not the victim from Central Casting.

Many ignore even the increasingly loud calls of Muslim leaders to restrain from violence, like the leader featured in a video from Turkey, exclaiming that killing children and women is cruelty and is a very big sin and specifying the Itamar murders of Jews as an example.

And when the human rights organizations of the world turn on Iranians, Syrians and Libyans rather than Israel, shouldn't we be cheering them, rather than making them stand before McCarthyist Knesset hearings for daring to be critical of specific Israeli actions (whether they are right or wrong)? Aren't we glad that Amnesty International exists, now that it has turned its attention to Syrian protests?

Let's not close ranks at a time when the world is opening up to our message. For the first time, Israel could truly be a light unto its neighbors as the Arab world faces the dark uncertainties of democracy's birth pangs. This is the time for Israel's democracy to seize the initiative and lead its neighbors into a scary new world of freedom and empowerment. Let's be part of the solution, not an example pf xenophobia unto the nations, one that will only encourage its neighbors to sway toward Islamic extremism.

Let's be the fulfillment of Herzl's other dream. The state has been achieved, now we need to work on the Jewish part. The part that espouses Jewish values - the blossoming of the Jewish spirit.

The Iron Dome is terrific. But what is it protecting?

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