Published in The Jerusalem Post on, March 1, 1998
We all know what’s wrong with this country. The papers regale us every day with stories of malfeasance, wrongdoing, corruption, stupidity and evil. Abandonment of values. The troubling thing is that we Israelis seem to have grown apathetic to it all.
Everybody loves to complain about the ‘matzav’ – the feeble national condition. Analyzing our screwed-up society is sort of an existential national sport. But isn’t it time for the common folk to * do * something about it all? How about a little civic initiative?
This society could benefit enormously from a renewed volunteer spirit that gets us off our butts, away from that cursed television screen showing stupid sitcoms, out of our polished private villas and into the public arena. Here’s a few suggestions for the conscientious activist concerned with the refurbishment of our fifty-year-old national dream:
* Preventing highway murder: Book an instructor from the National Council for the Prevention of Traffic Accidents (tel. 03-699-4361) to lecture at your son’s high school. Better yet, volunteer your services to the Council, and perhaps we’ll bring the annual death toll down below 500.
* Defending the backyard: After two ghastly murders in Jerusalem this month, in the heart of the middle class residential neighborhoods, you’d think that the local Civil Guard precinct would be deluged with volunteers. But no-one wants to be (gasp) a sucker! Easier to leave it all for the under-staffed police, and to keep complaining. (Nevertheless, *Mishmar Ezrachi * is awaiting your call).
* Absorbing olim: Cluck, cluck, just terrible, was our collective response to the shameful immigrant poverty revealed by the recent death in Lebanon of Sgt. Sergei Rappaport. He lived with his father and sister in a tin shack, for a $300 monthly rental fee. Absorption assistance agencies do great work in preventing this, but are hard-strapped for cash and volunteers. Start with the Zionist Forum (tel. 02-538-5823), founded by Natan Sharansky, and offer assistance.
* Adopt-a-soldier: The Association for the Welfare of Israeli Soldiers (tel. 02-623-5248) is running a new campaign to raise university scholarship funds for demobilized combat soldiers. This is a smart way both to increase motivation among our youth to volunteer for combat duty, and to reward those who take-up the challenge and put themselves on the front lines.
* Teaching tolerance: Children learn verbal violence, from the Knesset and Popolitika, very early on, so that’s where the counter-education should begin. Have your local school try out a sample lesson in tolerance and mutual respect, taught by educators of the new prejudice-reduction project jointly created by Bar-Ilan University’s School of Education and the Anti-Defamation League (tel. 03-531-8591).
* Protecting the environment: Builders are eating-away at the green countryside, while picnickers are littering the rest. Get active in the Council for a Beautiful Israel (tel. 03-642-3111), and help save our parks and open spaces.
* Making the ultimate donation: Israel has one of the lowest rates of organ donation in the western world, and real people suffer. The National Center for Transplants (tel. 04-854-2379) has an excellent educational film that can be shown in your neighborhood, along with sensitive speakers who will explain how organ donor cards work. And don’t forget to give blood at Magen David Adom.
* Advocating peace: Security doesn’t end at your own doorstep, and the peace process isn’t something you decide on once every four years. Yet surveys show that most of us are content with armchair analysis, absorbing the speculative political gibberish fed to us by the weekend papers — without too much response. Whatever your perspective, don’t let the politicians drag you along passively – get out there and demonstrate! Or write letters and establish a political party. (We have only 41).
* Appreciating heritage: No need to head for the Maharishi Something-Or-Other’s ashram in Nepal. Machon Shai (03-534-7340) and many other Jewish identity educational outfits offer dynamic, modern, and fun study clubs that might help keep our youth out of the malls and off drugs. Values isn’t a dirty word nor is tradition.
I have three dozen other ideas, but I think the direction is clear. Lethargy and indifference are hallmarks of a bourgeoisie, decadent society. Ours is supposed to be value-oriented, Zionist and Jewish. Uprooting apathy is a very Jewish principle.
“He who could have protested or prevented a misdemeanor from taking place, and didn’t, is himself tagged with the crime committed”, teaches the Talmud (Shabbat 44b). Why brand the bystander with such responsibility? Because “all of Israel must be guarantors of one another,” says the Mishna.
Indeed, let’s begin anew by caring for the character of our society, and getting active in repairing it.