Choose optimism!

On the eve of Succot, the festival of rejoicing, there is an obligation, I think, to eschew negativity and instead to bask in Israel’s national blessings. I offer here a buoyant evaluation. In overall perspective this country is stronger than any of its enemies, from without and within. Israel is far healthier than any sour-dour forecasts…

Published in The Jerusalem Post, and Israel Hayom, October 7, 2022. Print-friendly copy

With so many threats to Israel’s security and assaults on its legitimacy, and with so much internal political and social malaise, it is not surprising to hear Israelis speak about the future glumly.

This may be natural, but it is a short-sighted misread of Israel’s national situation. In overall perspective this country is stronger than any of its enemies, from without and within. Israel is far healthier than any sour-dour forecasts.

And on the eve of Succot, the festival of rejoicing, there is an obligation, I think, to eschew negativity and instead to bask in Israel’s national blessings. I offer here a buoyant evaluation.

Confounding its critics, Israel is effectively advancing its national agenda. It is a military and intelligence superpower. More so: It is force for regional stability, an anchor of sanity in an unruly region.

It also is a source of ingenuity for global partnerships in arts and education, health, hi-tech, biotech, energy and environmental tech, and much more. Israel sizzles with creativity.

In grand historical perspective Israel is certainly winning! After two millennia of dispersion and degradation, Israel has ingathered the exiles from 70 Jewish diasporas and facilitated development of an animated and resilient society.

In fact, this is the finest moment in Jewish history in 2,000 years. Jews have regained sovereignty in their indigenous homeland and made it blossom anew. Israel is a brave place where citizens sacrifice to defend the country, maintain its morals, and settle the land. Israel’s youth are motivated to excel and animated to serve out of deep sense of responsibility for Jewish and Zionist destiny.

Moreover, Israel is a great place to live and raise a family. Healthcare and education are universally guaranteed rights. Average lifespan is 80 years, average annual income is $40,000, and the average family size is 5.7 people. Compare that to the crumbling Arab states around Israel, or much of the failing West.

On a deeper plane, on a spiritual scale, I think it can be said that the draw of Divine proximity and the powerful magnetism of Jewish peoplehood makes for a robust Jewish identity in this country that is ever-growing-stronger. (Elsewhere, around the world, Jewish identity is significantly challenged by homogenizing culture and woke ideologies.)

So in my tally, Israel comes out way ahead: Way ahead of its Western counterparts, way ahead of its adversaries and detractors, well beyond any point in centuries of Jewish history, and well positioned to overcome its many challenges.

OF COURSE, I am aware that Israel is still demonized in parts of the world; that some prefer to ignore Israel’s impressive achievements and instead assert a narrative of Israeli criminality; and that Israel’s outstretched hand for peace and its humanitarian record are globally under-unappreciated.

It also is true that radical Islam is encircling Israel from all sides, with an Iranian nuclear bomb an almost-foregone conclusion; that Arab gangs are chipping away at Israeli authority in the Galilee and Negev (and in mixed cities like Lod and Acre); and that Israel’s sovereign control in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria requires significant reinforcement or else it will be lost.

I am also aware that post-Zionist and individualist discourses on the extreme left, and racist and anti-democratic undercurrents on the extreme right, are undermining the country’s stamina and unity. The no-holds-barred ideological debate within Israel often inflicts deep wounds. I am alarmed by yawning income gaps and the skyrocketing cost of living which have led to gross social inequalities. These ailments drive dangerous internal Israeli resentments.

And still, my net assessment is that Israel is a tremendous success story in so many ways; that life in Israel is full of meaning and delight – adorned by commitment, achievement, and joy – all the components that make life satisfying and exciting, and certainly so for a Jew.

Moreover, I am convinced that beyond habitual grumbling Israelis are neither crushed nor truly dispirited by their challenges. Even though Israelis worry about the future (and are deeply disappointed in their politicians), they remain energized to build an even better future. Despite all the naysayers, boycotters, detractors, radicals, ruffians, and antisemites – Israelis are achieving, creating, producing, and advancing.

I am not peddling naivety, but I think that Israelis have ample reason to reject bleak and defeatist outlooks. We ought cultivate a mindfulness that emphatically exclaims: We have faith in the future. Not blind faith, but the kind of faith that says: We are not helpless, we are stronger than all our enemies, and (for most Israelis who manifestly believe in Divine Providence) we are not alone.

After all, as the late, great Chief Rabbi Dr. Lord Jonathan Sacks has written: “The Jewish People have been around for longer than almost any other. We have known our share of suffering. And we are still here, still young, still full of energy, still able to rejoice and celebrate and sing. Jews have walked more often than most through the valley of the shadow of death, yet they lost neither their humour nor their hope.”

“Faith does not mean believing ‘six impossible things before breakfast’… Nor is faith certainty; it is the courage to live with uncertainty. Faith does not mean seeing the world as you would like it to be. It means seeing the world exactly as it is, yet never giving up the hope that we can make it better by the way we live…”

Or as Rabbi Chagai Londin writes in his outstanding new book Another 12 Challenges to Faith in the Twenty-First Century (Divrei Shir Publishers), the operative key words we need drill into our heads and the minds of our kids are hope, realism, positivity, and proportion. This is not meant to make us apathetic or willfully ignorant about the challenges ahead but make us determined that we have the mental poise and patience to overcome them.

It’s simple to be an unrelenting pessimist. Alarmism is an easier sell than optimism, and fear can be fiercer than faith. Alas, politicians campaigning for election take advantage of this. We ought not stoop to such sullen thinking or enfeeble ourselves with despondency.

David M. Weinberg is a think tank director, columnist and lobbyist who is a sharp critic of Israel’s detractors and of post-Zionist trends in Israel. Read more »
A passionate speaker, David M. Weinberg lectures widely in Israel, the U.S. and Canada to Jewish and non-Jewish audiences. He speaks on international politics and Middle East strategic affairs, Israeli diplomacy and defense strategy, intelligence matters and more. Click here to book David Weinberg as a speaker

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