By Aliza Gershon
The turbulent elections still echo – prejudice, insults, reciprocal threats, and old wounds opened. The stormy campaign inflamed the many rifts in Israeli society, and conflict wasn’t limited to just a few sectors. Everyone, on the right and on the left, religious and secular, Sephardim and Ashkenazim, low-brow and high-brow, competed in long-distance (and sometimes close-in) defamation. Fundamental issues – borders, foreign policy, security and economics – were abandoned in favor of wars of self-definition and re-positioning of group markers of identity through contradiction with the other.
Who is the most Zionist? Who believes in God or kisses hollow amulets? Who is a real Israeli? One may cluck and twist his face in disgust, but in this season of Passover we can use the Egyptian Plagues to reflect on how to build a more united Israel. It is time to watch from the riverbanks, pull the surviving babies, and nurture a new generation of children with a spiritual backbone, clear values, a new identity, and the power and inclination to lead. We need to prepare our children for the complicated yet crucial combat for the soul of Israel.
Israeli Jews can all agree on two facts: 1) Israeli society is – and has been – polarized and tribal; and 2) unifying forces are stronger than divisive ones. We all believe in the right to liberty of the Jewish people in their land. We all believe in the right of self-respect.
As they left Egypt and crossed the sea, the Israelites did not know their destination. With the Egyptian slave master behind them and the arid desert ahead, they headed into the unknown. Yet, the urge to be free as an independent nation with a unique identity proved a more compelling force than fear of the unknown.
During forty years of wandering, the camp of Israel marched in an intriguing formation: three tribes each on the right, the left, in front and in back. In the middle marched the tribe of Levi with the Tabernacle and the Ark of God. While they may have walked in a mixture of men, women and children, the separation between the tribes was maintained. Each tribe had a special flag, flying in front of its people. This flag represented the tribe’s identity with its unique properties, and no one attempted to blur the differences. None of the tribes gave up its unique features, not even in favor of the shared journey. But at the heart of the formation resided the unifying factor: the Tabernacle or Mishkan – the soul of the people.
The “Tabernacle” of contemporary Israeli society can be defined as its fundamental principles, agreed upon and accepted by all current tribes. These principles include human dignity, the Jewish religion and the universal values it expresses, mutual respect, equal rights and equal opportunities for everyone regardless of race, gender, philosophy or lifestyle. Israeli society rests upon these pillars.
The Israeli nonprofit Tzav Pius believes that we can create an Israeli society characterized by mutual respect and responsibility by promoting the small yet growing Joint Education movement in the Israeli school system. Each tribe today – religious, secular, Haredi, etc. – operates its own educational system and perpetuates the current divisions in Israeli society. Thirty-four joint schools serving 7,200 youth throughout Israel have begun to provide a wider magnitude of expression to all the tribes. By growing the joint schools movement we can foster a more united Israel.
We invite all sectors of society to join the hundreds of parents and leaders who have already initiated joint Israeli schools. Just like the biblical Nachshon ben Aminadav, it is time to jump into the unknown and mysterious waters of Israeli identity. There, among all the patches of colors, light and shadows, will emerge the pearls of connection and unity.
Aliza Gershon is the Executive Director of Tzav Pius, an Israeli nonprofit founded in 1996 that promotes an Israeli society characterized by mutual respect and responsibility through the Israeli Joint Education movement. For more info please visit: www.TzavPius.org.il/en. Contact Aliza at [email protected]