by Shimon Arbel
Several times a year, I have the opportunity to travel abroad to meet with Jewish donors and friends of Israel.
Increasingly over the years, each encounter inevitably involves discussion over Israeli policies ranging from our presence in the administered territories to the authority of the rabbinate to our political structure and the behavior of Israelis both at home and abroad. And increasingly over the years, when I meet Jews and tell them that I live in Israel, I am met with either a polite smile, a tale of their last visit to Israel, a story of a relative who lives in Israel, but in the main, utter indifference.
In fact, had I told most if not all of these Jews that I lived in Rome or Hong Kong, it would have engendered far more interest and discussion than the apparently less interesting fact that I live in Jerusalem since immigrating from Canada nearly forty years ago.
On my most recent visit to New York, I had occasion to go to an AT&T outlet to acquire a cell-phone for use while in the U.S. I was directed to a desk manned by a 23 year old Hispanic-American by the name of Ranaldo who wore a bright gold crucifix. After assisting me with my purchase, and completing the order form, Ranaldo asked me for my billing address. After telling him that I live in Jerusalem, Israel, Ranaldo perked up, smiled widely and said, “Wow – it has been my dream of a lifetime to visit Jerusalem and the Holy Land. I have read much about the beauty and religious significance of Jerusalem, and I hope to visit there at least once in my lifetime. You are so privileged to live in Israel”.
That same evening, I had dinner with one of Israel’s more prominent supporters in the New York Jewish community. Again I heard a litany of complaints and disappointments about Israel, Israeli institutions, and my fellow Israelis. While much of what my host conveyed was undoubtedly out of a real concern for Israel and the Jewish future, I could not help but compare his attitude and language to that of my friendly Catholic salesperson at AT&T who instinctively understood that miracle in history called the State of Israel.
When interviewed on the eve of Israel’s fifth anniversary, then Prime Minister Moshe Sharett was asked his view of the newborn state. “Israel”, he is quoted as saying, “is more than I had expected, less than I had hoped for”. Sharett succinctly conveyed the difference between the earthly Jerusalem and the Jerusalem of our dreams. As we begin a New Year and face the many complex challenges and dilemmas before us, we would do well to emulate Ranaldo’s sense of awe and wonder, while at the same time, recommitting ourselves to the everyday, down to earth task of ensuring a better Israel.
Shimon Arbel is the Director of Institutional Advancement at Hadassah Academic College, Jerusalem.