Friday, September 22, 2006

Rosh Hashana 5767

Rosh Hashana is a time to take stock, a time for self reflection. A time to think about whether we have become the type of people we wanted, whether we are achieving what we set out to achieve;

Rosh Hashana is for me more than just making a new year’s resolution of being less addicted to the internet and not picking my nose in public. It makes me think about what I have done this year, what have I achieved and what I have seen. The people I’ve met and those I’ve lost touch with; the people I’ve helped and those I’ve hurt. It brings me back to the time when I nearly had a panic attack on the other side of the world, being a witness at Adam’s wedding, making Shabbat with 13 Israelis in Chile, leaving England and arriving in Israel for the first time as an oleh, being published in the jpost, meeting Rachel, celebrating with Kadima on election night, interviewing for jobs in Hebrew…the weddings, births and funerals; the times when I felt free and liberated, and the times when my self esteem was low.

And its not just individuals who our tradition says are judged but countries. What does the new year bring for Israel? How many civilians and soldiers will not celebrate next Rosh Hashanah? Will there be more elections? Will the social gap decrease? Will our neighbours finally accept us in the region? Will there be another Disengagement and talk of civil strife?

In addition, it’s also a time of hopes for the coming year; And for me, there can be no greater hope than that of
David Grossman who wrote the following in memory of his son Uri, a tank commander killed just before the cease fire in Lebanon came into effect;

I fervently hope that we will know how to be more tender toward one another. I fervently hope that we will succeed in extricating ourselves from the violence and hostility that have seeped so deeply into all aspects of our lives. I fervently hope that we will know how to straighten up and save ourselves now, at the very last minute, because very hard times still await us.

Uri was a very Israeli child; even his name is so Israeli and so Hebrew. He was the essence of Israeliness as I would want to see it. The Israeliness that has almost been forgotten. The Israeliness that is sometimes considered almost a curiosity. And he was a person with values. This word has been much eroded and has been ridiculed in recent years, because in our crazy, cruel and cynical world it is not "cool" to be a person of values, or to be a humanist, or be truly sensitive to the other's distress, even if the other is your enemy on the field of battle. But I learned from Uri that it is indeed both possible and necessary. That we indeed need to preserve our soul. To defend ourselves in both senses: both to protect our life and to preserve our soul. To insist on defending it from simplistic might and simplistic thinking, from the corruption that lies in cynicism, from the pollution of the heart and the scorn for human beings that truly represent the biggest curse for everyone who lives his whole life in a disaster zone like ours.

And whatever happens in the next year, atleast I feel that I am in the right place to appreciate it, inside the ring fighting rather than looking in from the outside.

Shana Tova Leculam

Wanna Live like Common People

I first met Ohad in the quaint and beautiful town of Pucon in Chile. Arriving at the travel agency to organize my climb up Mount Villarica, I had got chatting to two guys, one with dreads, one with long hair; both clearly Israeli. I later bumped into them again in a youth hostel in Southern Chile and continued with Ohad back into Argentina. A few days before I left for England, he got called up for reserve duty.

Over cookies and coffee in my apartment in Jerusalem we discussed the war in the north; how motivation amongst soldiers was initially high, how almost everyone who was called up came. Ohad spoke of the disorganization – of being told to walk a distance of 15km to clear a road only to be overtaken half way through by soldiers on trucks; of getting ready for numerous missions only for them to be cancelled at the last minute. Of how, as time went on, soldiers began to lose faith in the system and to demand answers that no one could give them; Of how some units were even lacking water.

The balagan in the IDF didn’t end there. A recent report claimed a dangerous mission in Bal–Bek involving 200 elite soldiers as having been undertaken simply for morale. Ben Caspit in Maariv wrote of how an army general, Ron Tal, who had written a critical study of the IDF before the war, had been fired.

Rosh Hashana is about taking responsibility, both personal and national. But what does it say about our leaders when all plan to stay put? Or when previous Ministers are dishing out the blame like they are completely innocent of our complete logistical unpreparedness? What type of country is it when a population that overwhelmingly rejected Netanyahu 4 months ago would now want him back as prime minister or when Yom Hadin might actually literally be a day in court for some of our politicians?

Israel goes into 5767 with increasing social gaps, with an unstable government only 6 months after the elections; with a President facing impeachment and with the threat of a looming nuclear Iran.

Yet whilst the leaders may be refusing to take responsibility, normal people continue to do their bit and step up to the plate. And despite 60% of people saying this week that the country is not in a good state, 88% of Israelis say they are very happy here! Last week I went to the swearing in ceremony at the Western Wall of one of my tour chanichim, Barry. I am not sure whether my post modern sensibilities will ever feel comfortable hearing people swearing allegiance to their homeland. I doubt I will get used to 18 year olds waving their guns around, or the fact that young boys continue to lose their youth protecting our society. But what can one say when in a place that 40 years ago we didn’t have? And how can one argue with militarism in society when 60 years ago our people were marched to the gas chambers?

And all of these people, they aren’t fundamentalists; many aren’t even ideologues; they’re just normal people, students and professionals, fathers and husbands, who leave their normal life to defend our state. And many may have lost confidence in the political leadership, may feel that the army has let them down. But they will continue to come, will continue to answer their tzav shmone to serve and defend. They are people who continue to believe in the Jewish state as an idea, even at times when that concept is harder to justify.

The Haftara we read on second day Rosh Hashana talks about an Am Seridei Charev, a people
who have survived the sword coming back to the land and describes the day when men and women, young and old will dance happily in the streets, a people whose mourning has been turned into joy. And in many ways I do wish that this country was more like Chile, with its quietness and peacefulness, without the fear of war, or tragedy hovering over it. But if the question is whether our cup is half full or half empty there can only really be one answer.

And where else in the world can you buy a bottle of water that will wish you a shana tova leguf uleneshama, a happy new year for body and soul?