Thursday, June 24, 2021 -
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Guard the blessing

The land of Israel is burning. Not just figuratively. But, literally. Forest fires seem to be lighting up across the country. From Tzur Hadassah to Ma’ale Hachamisha, Modiin, Mazkeret Batya and Lifta. I have read a few accounts of ash from the fires falling all over Jerusalem.

Of course, in burning sun-heat, it’s easy for a fire to be ignited from a cigarette butt, but it seems these fires have most likely been ignited by arson. As of this writing, police are attributing the alarming frequency of these growing forest fires to arson.

Intuitively, it seems the tensions in the mixed Arab towns hasn’t quieted down at all, but just moved to a different local. Some are wondering whether these forest fires are nothing short of an internal domestic war that has morphed from Gaza rockets and street tensions to, literally, some Arabs trying to burn the country down.

All this, amidst the figurative fires that have been burning within Israel.

The growing tensions due to the expectation of the upcoming government of change (I can’t bring myself to call it by the coinage of “unity government,” which it is falsely being billed as) has many having complete meltdowns. Even before I read about the actual forest fires, it felt like people were blowing fire.

Head of the Shin Bet, Israel’s security agency, Nadav Argaman, issued a rare public announcement, warning of the current atmosphere of incitement G-d forbid leading to violence.

This is obviously horrifying.

But, heartbreakingly, I have personally seen the incitement from both sides of Israel’s political map on social media.

The pain and ghosts of Oslo are haunting and hijacking the current tenor of conversation.

Although I am not currently living in Israel, I too feel worried about Israel’s future security, despite all the glib promises of this new government, which is essentially motivated by and predicated upon the desire to oust Netanyahu, nothing more.

I remember how spooked I was when the ideology that expressed how wonderful the 1993 Oslo declaration peace was going to be for Israel churned against my own gut in a loud scream of “No it won’t!” I remember living through the 2005 Israeli disengagement from Gaza, when Israel was barely recovered from and still limping from the wounds of the Second Intifada. Again, the prevailing media and many in Israeli society lulled people into believing what a wonderful fresh start leaving Gaza will afford Israelis and Palestinians alike. Again, my gut twisted uneasily, chafing against this prevailing conventional wisdom in a large sector of Israeli society.

So while I’m not physically present in Israel and can’t say I am living through this particular tension inside the country, I am leaning on experiences of similar magnitude. And I have also been following this developing situation closely both in the news and on social media.

These, indeed, are scary times.

Still, lowering ourselves to incitement is just plain wrong; indeed, dangerous.

This is not us! We should be above this! I believe we should pray about the situation. I believe we should talk to one another — friends and colleagues of differing views, stand by our respective principles, but not sling dirt at one another and certainly G-d forbid inflict physical harm!

Just as the physical fires cannot be calmed by throwing more wood on it, or by winds that power it further, these emotional fires of national mental suffering need calming wisdom to contain them, lest they burn through the fabric of Israeli society, reaching catastrophic levels that could engulf it in flames very difficult to extinguish.

I find myself reading some social media posts by both sides that defy belief and leave me worried.

Israel has endured many ebbs and flows in her short history, many peaks and valleys. Right now, there seem to be a collective psychic trauma of upcoming difficult times, a collective intuition of dread, by a large sector of the country.

The truth is, when you look at Jewish history, the 70- or 73-year mark, is a bit freaky. In the two previous times that Israel had sovereignty over the land, it was after approximately this duration of time that sovereignty started falling apart.

Right now it feels like yet again we the Jewish people are living through historic moments. We need to get the processes right to guard the blessing that our generation has been lucky enough to have: Israel.

I’ve heard this new government referred to as “kilayim,” the biblical prohibition against planting different species together.

The thing is, we are not different species. We are all different, but we are one in the sense of being part of our One Jewish People. We may be different but we can be united while maintaining our legitimate differences; we can be linked by our unique peoplehood and destiny. Each different community can strengthen and balancing the other with the best it has to offer.

Short of radicalized self-hating ideologies that to me smack of Stockholm Syndrome — looking desperately for approval from the world to the extent of hurting and sabotaging Israel and Israelis, such as aiding and abetting probes in the Hague against IDF soldiers — as opposed to genuine desire to repair from within what’s broken — I truly believe we can all learn to understand each other more, respect one another more, talk to one another more, appreciate one another more, and forge bonds with one another more.

Easier said than done. And it certainly takes hard emotional work that isn’t simple.

But this is one of the crucial challenges of the moment that we must meet.

Ultimately, that is the only way we can put out these raging political and social fires.

I am praying for the land of Israel, for the State of Israel, for the People of Israel.

For the next 73 years, I hope, and beyond.

Copyright © 2021 by the Intermountain Jewish News

IJN columnist | View from Central Park

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