Love of country
A call to purpose: Thoughts for Israel’s national days of mourning and celebration
Over the last few months, we have collectively deconstructed Israel, carefully diagnosing cause and effect. We have asked ourselves and one another how is this country's political system going to work best? How do we maintain or repair checks and balances? And when Israeli society is faltering, how do we restore it to health?
I recently asked a prominent figure in Israel how they would respond to the issue of judicial reform. They answered that they couldn’t make an explicit response, since such a move would risk alienating other concerned parties and the issue of consensus-building was foremost in their mind. At the time I thought this to be a cop-out. In retrospect I understand it as a purposeful move consistent with their greater, long-term goal of Israeli unity.
The response reminded me of the book, “The Great Partnership: God, Science and the Search for Meaning” by Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks z”l in which he makes a profound distinction between science and religion. Science, Sacks writes, helps us understand how the world works, based upon cause and effect, and religion helps us understand why things work. “Religion is about human action and is forward-looking,” continues Sacks, powered by meaning-making why statements, otherwise known as, purpose.
Over the last few months, we have collectively deconstructed Israel, carefully diagnosing cause and effect. We have asked ourselves and one another how is this country’s political system going to work best? How do we maintain or repair checks and balances? And when Israeli society is faltering, how do we restore it to health?
Now is the time to focus on why we are here and why we care in the first place. My influential Israeli figure did that. Instead of answering about how they would react, they reminded me of their longer-term vision of why they were in this role to begin with.
The pressing need to talk about purpose was highlighted for me when two mothers of fallen IDF soldiers debated on radio whether Israeli politicians ought to address the nation on Yom Hazikaron. The rawness of the conversation was immense. One suggested that the politicians would corrupt the ceremony and the other claimed that they would inspire it. Personal loss and collective loss seemed all too connected.
The well-known Canadian researcher on grief, Darcy Harris, writes: “grief can occur as a result of events that take place on the socio-political level which can be experienced both individually and collectively. Collective grief may occur when the loss relates to a group where commonly shared assumptions are shattered.”
Many of us are experiencing a sense of loss: our expectations about the larger system have been reaffirmed, undermined or shattered, depending on your political vantage point. Eran, the emotional first aid service in Israel, has reported that one in four recent inquiries have been about “political anxiety.” So, what can we do when we face this sense of collective grief and discord, when “our assumptive worlds,” as Darcy calls them, have been called into question by events greater than ourselves?
We push for purpose.
Recently, I met with 30 Israelis who deferred their mandatory service to serve as Jewish Agency young emissaries to Canada. I asked these 18-year-olds to position themselves in the room based on the degree to which they felt a sense of purpose leaving Israel to become shlichim. Nearly all stood at the high end of purpose, clear about why they were going. One woman bravely shared a different voice, saying it is hard to find my reason ‘why’ right now, because things are so tough in Israel. One of her peers responded, saying that maybe this is your purpose: to show that you are passionately connected to Israel and see its complexity at the same time. She smiled, gratefully, and moved a little closer to her peers.
We may have differing answers to the question of why we are about to commemorate and celebrate Israel. We may also feel worn out by the intensity of what has occurred over the last few months. And the national days in Israel bring up a variety of emotions at the best of times.
It is because of all this that now, more than ever, we need to connect to purpose as an act of resilience in turbulent times and as a gesture of love for this country, its people and its diverse vitality.
Sarah Mali is the newly appointed Director General of the Jewish Federations of Canada – UIA in Israel.