April 4, 2004

Despite threats from without, the social fabric of Israel has survived.It is our style to be stingy with beauty. No sooner does our spring show up than it leaves, as if we don’t deserve to enjoy that transition from winter to summer.

Still, we feel the sharp contradiction between the beautiful days outside and our dark feelings within. It is the fourth year of this war, with at least 1,000 dead, thousands of wounded and no end in sight.

This is a time to look beyond the current events if we can. We are a society that torments itself all the time. It might have to do with our past. It might also be a new acquired trait, but we have developed it into an art.

We constantly castigate ourselves. Too frequently we say we failed. We failed in the economy, we failed in our society, we failed morally. Indeed, there have been more than a few failures on the way, but nothing is perfect, and there can’t be a 100% success.

But if we can still see straight – and I hope we can – we will perceive the many points of light that brighten our journey. Everything we did from the beginning of the 20th century to the beginning of the 21st. One hundred years of solitude. The Zionist movement, the ingathering to the Land of Israel, building the foundations of our society and state, and our ongoing survival in a hostile environment, are all worthy of admiration and appreciation.

Our country has only had few moments of grace. A little in the 1950s, a little after 1967. But in retrospect it is a tough story of a collection of people in constant struggle.

The balance of power between “us” and “them” was hopeless from the start. We could have never assumed that thousands, or eventually several millions of people, would succeed in establishing an independent entity and maintaining it, but we did.

As for today, the existence of the State of Israel is unshakeable. Even today, while the nation is subject to the most fierce criticism from around the world, and countries that are important to us demand we make compromises and concessions, they will not let Israel disappear. And I did not mention our friendship with the U.S., the only superpower.

But the great miracle is our ability to maintain a democratic regime, because after all, if this were not a Jewish and democratic country, it would not have a chance or a right to exist. And further: it is quite astonishing that in the face of the threats from without our social fabric has survived. Despite the national mobilization, despite the collective effort, we maintain the uniqueness of the individual. We have been able to maintain individual rights for the citizen. We have been able to live as a minority within a majority – and as a majority that has a minority within it.

Those are the two miracles that happened here. It would have been natural, under the circumstances we face, to replace democracy with an “iron” regime under which the individual is forced to give up his natural rights in favor of the collective. There have been such examples in the 20th century.

Israel has managed to maintain its institutions and its democratic character, but now it faces the Palestinian demographic threat. What the suicides cannot do in our streets, the Palestinian mothers are doing. The Palestinian population growth creates a human mass that threatens the Jewish majority between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. In just a few years there will be more Arabs than Jews in that space.

That is the strategic threat to Israel, to its Jewish and democratic nature. I know some of us believe there will be another wave of immigration of hundreds of thousands or millions of Jews. Unfortunately, that belief has no basis. The Jewish people is undergoing a shocking process of intermarriage and assimilation, and the Jewish population of the world is shrinking.

Pessah is the holiday of freedom. We celebrate our deliverance from bondage at the Seder table. Every year, we are required to view ourselves as if we were redeemed from Egypt. But we are also required to remember the lessons. The lesson of that first Pessah, and of every one in Jewish history, is our aspiration to be free, independent, self-reliant.

We can do that as long as we maintain our country’s democratic and Jewish foundations. That is how we will be worthy of our freedom. We should remember this during our beautiful spring.

(Originally appeared in The Jerusalem Post)

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

Executive Director

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