Recently I got a call from G., a young, very popular and respected educator in the local high school, inviting me to a parlor meeting to "help set up a new movement for a social revolution in Israel not a political party." Of course I said yes.
There were about a dozen attendees, mostly people involved in education (e.g., a former principal, teachers, a few 12th graders, a young mother home-schooling her kids) and a few from other fields. G. opened by stating that we are not getting together to complain, to kvetch, but rather to take a positive, pro-active position for social change. She observed that there are many people, from all walks of life, who are frustrated by the reality in Israel today, the messed-up priorities, the leadership vacuum; everywhere she goes she hears the same chorus. So, why not do something about it? She feels sure that a mass movement could arise on behalf of a reordering of national priorities. The peace process is stalled, education budgets are being slashed, the poor are marching on Jerusalem while conspicuous consumption runs rampant surely this is not the dream we all dreamed. But to sit and complain, to stop reading the paper, to shake your head and make a cynical comment these responses just make us part of the problem. The time has come to stand up and seek positive solutions.
There wasn't much to disagree with in her formulation but there also wasn't much to agree upon in terms of the much-hoped-for solution. It is one thing to demand a reordering of priorities; it is quite another to say what the new order should be. It quickly became apparent that the foundation of a mass movement was not going to be laid that night or any time soon. There was an ironic humor in the contrast between her statement that we were not gathering to complain and the contents of most of the discussion, which consisted of variations on the theme of how bad things are
And yet it is clear that I share the feeling that G. tried to express. And I agree with her that many others do as well. Somehow, the continuous onslaught of depressing news generates a frustrating sense of helplessness. You read the headlines and every day lower your head a little more as if to duck the next blow, and wonder how the stirring dream of an old-new-land came to this. Just what is "this?" If I try to articulate the feeling without cataloging all the little annoyances and big evils, political, cultural, and ethical, I come up with the following: perhaps building a society in the shadow of the Holocaust has somehow morally crippled us: if we see the world through the lens of "all the world wants the Jews dead," then our first and only priority is to stay alive, to outsmart or outgun the rest of the world and to enjoy, as we do so, standing on the high moral ground of the absolute victim. So don't tell us how to drive, or where to throw our garbage, and don't tell us to be sensitive to others' rights or humiliations, or to compromise our fantasies of "living well." Dont instruct us in morality we wrote the book. And what is true for us as a nation is true for each of us as an individual.
To make matters worse, when I say all this to myself, I find myself feeling guilty for being an effete snob, a soft-minded elitist who clings to old-fashioned and maybe even discredited ideals of Ashkenazic Anglo-Saxon Reform messianic Zionism. And it seems ridiculous to imagine that a dozen or a hundred others like me, with our ambivalence and our guilt and our unclear vision, will be the nucleus of a mass movement that can reorder anyone's priorities.
Maybe we shouldn't long for a mass movement; maybe we should settle for merely finding a way to give each other the strength to speak and live and teach and model the values we believe in, without stammering, without guilt, without ducking or flinching. I just don't know if we can.