Published in The Jerusalem Post on August 6, 2000
Tisha Be’Av, the mournful commemoration of Jewish national destruction and self-destruction which falls later this week, hasn’t quite reached the status of Yom Kippur as a day of reflection and repentance. But it should.
Especially here in modern Israel. We are repeating so many of the mistakes made by our ancestors in the First and Second Temple periods; mistakes which have, in past, brought about social decay, moral decline and political disintegration.
All of us ought take a spell from our regular regimen this coming Thursday, have a seat on the floor, and take a hard, contemplative look at the social/political group we each respectively belong to, and at the state we are building. Or should I say – at the state we slowly mangling into ruin.
Of course, doing so requires a capacity for self-criticism and a hefty dose of humility. In Israel these days, humility is in short supply. The rich and successful and the politically powerful exude a preening pride and overbearing self-confidence that leaves no room for self-doubt, change or compromise. Israelis are, as a rule, unrepentantly certain that their individual viewpoint is absolutely correct, barring all others.
Nevertheless, our society as a whole has a few things to mend. Among the items we all might want to include in our prayers or reflections this Tisha Be’Av:
*Violence in Society:* We’re cavalierly murdering each other in disputes over beach chairs, parking spots, and TV programs. Last week, yet another husband murdered his wife. To that, you can add over 20,000 cases of violence within the family each year; 60,000 burglaries; 14,000 drug related offenses, etc.
Who is going to act to reduce the violence in our schools? Fifty percent of our kids have experienced classroom violence in grades six through ten; 45 percent report “a lot” of hooliganism, bullying or property destruction in their school; and 14 percent have required medical attention from injuries sustained in school violence.
*Economic Injustice in Society:* The average gross income among the top decile of Israelis – the richest ten percent of the population – is 48 times the average income in the lowest decile. Put another way, 25 times more money goes to the richest fifth of the population than to the poorest fifth. There is not one Western country, not even the US, that even comes close to us in inequality of income distribution.
Who is going to ensure socio-economic justice?
Seven percent of our youth drop-out of school every year in grades nine through eleven – that is 20,000 kids. In Sderot the drop-out rate is a whopping 21 percent; 28 percent in Netivot. New immigrants are also dropping out of high school at a higher-than-acceptable rate. Sixty-two percent of high school kids do not complete bagrut.
Who is going to overhaul our educational system?
*Hatred in Society:* Where are the leaders who will end the propagation of needless hatred and eschew inflammatory, seditious demagoguery?
Amos Oz, for example, wins this month’s Award of Opprobrium for saying the most offensive thing. “Shimon Peres was defeated (in the vote for the presidency)”, Oz disgorged in a masterful display of condescension, “by a coalition of hawks, Ultra-Orthodox Jews, ostriches with their head buried in the sand, the opponents of peace, the opponents of enlightenment and the opponents of progress”. No less.
Ah yes, the forces of darkness who had the perfidious chutzpah to challenge the selection as president of Peres, obvious choice of all decent people!
I think that Oz and his fellow proponents of “enlightenment” have some *teshuva* to do this Tisha Be’Av, lest their benighted arrogance further tear this country apart.
So pray that we can successfully re-introduce moderation and reasonableness as behavioral standards, and give each other the benefit of the doubt; overlooking, instead of emphasizing, our differences.
*Jewish and Zionist Identity of Society:* The attenuation of a proud Zionist-Jewish perspective in our schoolbooks, media, culture and arts scene dangerously threatens to strip us of the moral strength necessary to persevere in the continuing struggle for Israel’s place in the Middle East.
It is time to stop and ask ourselves: has our heightened capacity for Zionist self-criticism gone too far? Isn’t it time to reenergize our national spirit with a little historical perspective that allows us to recognize the essential morality of the Jewish return to Zion?
What better moment than Tisha Be’Av to remind ourselves of our unassailable and unmatchable claim to Jerusalem; of the deep roots of Jewish identity and Israeli nationality that run through ancient Jerusalem — far beyond the practical calculus of municipal demographics, security concerns and political timetables?
So this Tisha Be’Av, let us recommit ourselves to an overhaul of society: more refined use of language in public discourse, just a little less hacking at each other politically, a touch more tolerance in education, more honesty in business and increased philanthropy, a crackdown on crime, fairer distribution of the national burden, more concern for the widow, orphan and unemployed, and some reverence for heritage and Zionist achievement.