by Eitan Shishkoff

Yosi sat down right next to me at a beachside café to put on his shoes. I'd never seen the guy before - but that's the way it works in Israel, everyone is somehow related and takes family liberties. At first I was offended, thinking "What chutzpah! This guy has a lot of nerve." Then he saw me writing in my journal and asked "Is that Russian you're writing?" "No, it happens to be English." From there we struck up a conversation that I've had with a number of veteran Israelis.

Because we're approaching this year's celebration of Israeli Independence Day (Yom HaAtzma'ut) I'd like to explore the implications of my chat with Yosi. How do the Israelis who came around the time of statehood (1948 and after) see the country's current condition? Are we veering off the course set by the pioneers who sacrificed so much to see modern Israel rise out of the ashes of the Holocaust?

Yosi told me the outline of his story and offered his assessment of Israel's social climate today. He arrived in 1948 from Lebanon. The Jewish community in Beirut was wealthy. But there was nothing here when his family and many others arrived. "People were idealistic then, and worked for the common good. Now that we are a prosperous country there is a lot of selfishness and competition."

FOUNDER'S IDEALISM

The socialist origins of Zionism are well documented. The twin movements of the late 1800s (modern nationalism and idealistic socialism), combined to create a robust movement of European Jews determined to return to Eretz Yisrael. They were filled with zeal and self-sacrificial commitment to re-establish in Palestine a permanent home for the Jewish people. While in retrospect we may say that Socialism has not succeeded as the utopian solution it claimed to be, the values of shared resources and the willingness to give one's life for the community remain worthy hallmarks of Israel's chalutzim (pioneers).

In sharp contrast to the city-bound Jews of Russia, Poland, Rumania, Germany and Ukraine, divorced from fields and hills, the pre-state "settlers loaded their packhorses with tents, tools, and supplies of food and drinking water"*1 ready to pitch camp in places like Rishon leTzion and Petach Tikva. These became the first of many collective and semi-collective enterprises scattered throughout Israel. Malaria, Arab attacks, disease and exhaustion took many lives. But the nearly 2000 year wait to return to the land of promise fueled a passion, a blazing fire in their hearts that could not be extinguished.

MUTUAL DEPENDENCE vs. INDIVIDUALISTIC CONSUMERISM

By the time of our War of Independence (1948-1949) the 1881 population of 25,000 had grown to 500,000 Jewish Israeli residents. The decades that followed were still marked by an indifference to material ambition and a high commitment to mutual assistance. The neighborhood our family has lived in since 1997 was built before personal automobile use was prevalent. Our apartment buildings are four deep between streets, with many walking paths joining the apartments to streets where it was assumed all would travel on buses. Our daughter-in-law, Orit, still remembers growing up in the 70s and 80s when no one locked their doors, teen fashion competition was virtually unknown, there was only one TV station in the entire country and the favorite vacation was to stay in a simple cottage on a kibbutz.

Today, as Yosi observed, Israel has largely gone the way of the "prosperous, developed" West. Though we are thankful for the high standard of living our nation enjoys, we are appalled at the mass-advertising appeals to sensuality, the heavy emphasis on consumerism and the self-focused outlook of many with whom we share this land. Yosi bemoans the change, as do many Israelis who took part in forging the new nation from the 50s through the 80s. Interestingly, a turning point in the old value-system seemed to correspond with the massive wave of aliya that brought us to Israel in the early 90s and continued for the next fifteen years. New apartments, highways, cell phones, cable TV, internet, booming car sales and shopping malls dotting the Israeli landscape all contributed to an economic boom and a new life style of greater comfort and privacy.

RESPONDING TO YOSI'S LAMENT

But the question is, have we remained true to the original Zionist vision? Yosi and many other old-timers would say "No, we are now very much like every other nation." This opinion contains a truth ... one that many Israelis are uneasy about because they know intuitively that more is expected of us. This is true even if the vast majority of our population is secular and does not acknowledge an active role for God or the Hebrew Scriptures in their daily lives. In response to his lament I told Yosi that without faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, we cannot really succeed in maintaining the idealism that founded the state. Socialistic humanism wears thin after a generation or two. We are only two generations away from the David Ben-Gurions, the Chaim Weizmanns, and the Menachem Begins. If we do not reconnect with our heaven-born covenant mandate we cannot persevere through the internal opposition of materialistic hedonism and the external threat of Islamic jihad.

Yosi and I enjoyed our exchange. He, the veteran from the ancient Near Eastern Jewish enclave up the coast in Lebanon, and me, the relatively recent arrival from the modern Far Western Jewish community across the sea in America. I had to smile at the bond we experienced within a few short minutes: two Israelis from very different points of view, both loving our country. Our spiritual perspectives were far apart (I'd like to say that I explained to him about Yeshua being our Messiah, but that will have to wait for another visit to the beachside café), yet we were linked by the outlandish project of a people supernaturally resurrected after nearly 20 centuries.

This is a good way to head into Israeli Independence Day, appreciating the price paid by our founders. I am inspired by their example again and again. Yom HaAtzma'ut is an appropriate day to renew our determination to give our lives and share our possessions in order to see the spiritual resurrection of Israel that will surely follow the physical one (see Ezekiel 37).

1. "The Israelis", Amos Alon, 1971, p.95

 

By Eitan Shishkoff





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Also in this issue of the newsletter:

Dan Juster: Restoring The Judicial Function To The Body
Marty Shoub: Remembering Until Swords Are Beaten Into Plowshares
Asher Intrater: Passover And Baptism
Asher Intrater: Luke Ten