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The Israeli Condition

Ari ShavitFilmed at Limmud Conference 2014

My passion is for Jewish life in the 21st Century. We have never had it so good. But what does the future hold? What will become of us? What will happen to Jewish tradition? What will we be like in the 22nd Century? In this talk, I speak about the 20th Century miracles of Jewish sovereignty and the perfect diaspora. But I also speak about how, in the 21st Century, both of these miracles are challenged.

Ari Shavit is the author of My Promised Land: the triumph and tragedy of Israel. An outspoken columnist for Haaretz, Israel’s newspaper of record, and a prominent commentator on Israeli Public Television, Shavit has become one of the strongest voices in the nation’s public arena. He challenges the dogmas of both Right and Left with his unique insights into the roles of Israel and Zionism in the 21st century.

My Name is Ari Shavit and my passion is Jewish life in the 21st century, we have it so good. We never had it so good but what does the future hold? What will become of us? And what will it be like in the 22nd century. When we look back what we see is the 20th century was the most dramatic in our dramatic history. It’s first half was our worst ever. We lost every third Jew, think of us sitting here, every third Jew, but it’s second half was by far our best. We created the miracle of Jewish sovereignty there and you have created the miracle of the perfect diaspora year. Why is Israel a miracle? Because we have done what no other people and built our national home but Israel is also a miracle because when we did that when we built our national home we built it under the volcano and the volcano erupted once and twice and three times and the volcano will go on erupting but we survived. The third reason Israel is a miracle because when we went back to our Ancient homeland to that difficult land and troubling region we managed to make our home a democracy, the fact that all our history and all that surrounds us, Israel in a liberal democracy, prosperous and in line is the third feature of the Israeli miracle, how did we do this? First because the Zionist diagnosis was brilliant, years ahead we saw that Europe was becoming a death threat to its Jews and we tried to save it but we also realized that non ultra orthodox Jewish civilization is in jeopardy and we realize we must have that national home in order to save us both from the physical danger and the identity threat because of the diagnosis but because in the first generations we had astonishing statesmanship. We came from nowhere, we came from the shtetl but in the first generations, we produced unprecedented political genius, Herzl, Weismann, Ben Gurion the combination of realism with morality of imagination, determination, creativity was astound, the third way that we made this miracle possible, was realizing we are faced with a unique challenge, a unique condition and therefore we have to produce unique solutions, kibbutz, moshav, all these things we have such amazing social and political innovation that enable us to deal with the exceptional situation Israel faces and the fourth element was the Israeli spirit, basically we are people who come from death, are threatened by death but have chosen life, chose life, we celebrate life, what is so astonishing about Israelis with all their weaknesses is this spirit of moving on, dealing with the challenges not surrendering. Israel at its heart is an amazing phenomena of vitality against all odds. But the diaspora for the last century, think of us gathering, let each one think of his grandparents and great grandparents where were we were Europe’s ultimate other then we became Europe’s ultimate victim, we contributed so much to civilization but such large parts of civilizations haunted us, persecuted us, we were endangered we were humiliated, look at us now, what is so astounding is not only the personal success of so many Jews in the last century, in science in commerce in arts, wherever you look what’s more astounding is the collective success and we should not be ashamed and apologetic about Jewish power. On the contrary, let what we have done be an example to any minority in any country of how a minority can save itself an create a universe within which it can live and prosper, how is that done? Well Israel is all about sovereignty, the diaspora success is all based on choice and community on the voluntary community. This amazing universe of organizations and congregations, based on voluntary vales is the great secret of the great miracle of the Jewish diaspora but in the 21st century both miracles are challenged, in Israel we have so many challenges, Iran, the Arab chaos, Palestinian conflict, the growing divide which troubles me so much between us and the West. What troubles me more than anything else is the disintegration of the Israeli narrative, Israeli ethos, that held us together, to do what we have done to be who we are, to strive and survive in where we live, we need a sense of meaning and a sense of social justice we need a benign Israel .what troubles me is when I look at our youngsters. No other democracy asks its young people to risk their lives in the way we ask our youngsters to risk their lives but are we Did we give them a sense of meaning and sense of justice? The challenge facing the diaspora is the terrible generation gap, I have been around the Jewish world in the last…I have seen so many communities that have inspired me and moved me that have made me so emotional about the great success but wherever you go in the Jewish world you use the generation gap by and large people over 70 have the Holocaust as their context and they are religiously committed to Israel and Jewish life, by and large people over 50 have a strong Jewish identity and remember pre 67 Israel and they whine and groan but they cannot help it they are with Israel and Jewish life. But people under 30 are in a different world they are torn between their liberal values and the fact that Israel is not perceived as a liberal ……they are torn between their universal values and the fact that Israel and Jewish life is perceived as trivial nothing troubles me more than this lack of new, renewed identity we have not dealt with anguish and torment, that young Jews who want to be Jews are going through. As you can see there is a link between the two challenges, the main challenge facing us today is our youngsters, our youngsters in Israel and our youngsters in the diaspora, if we do not change the dynamics in Israel, if we do not change the dynamics in the diaspora we endanger our future. In my mind we face the most dramatic decade since 1948, we still have the resources, the good will, the organization, the commitment, so many of the youngsters still care, but if we do not change the way we deal with Israel, the way Israel is and if we don’t change the Jewish message we ourselves are endangering our community, if you think I’m a pacifist I’m not. I’m a great believer in Israelis, I’m a great believer in the Jewish people and I’m sure we can overcome, but in order to overcome we need a new vision we need new ideas, we need new concepts. We need a new sense of meaning , so in my mind the most urgent task of today is to redefine and relaunch a new energetic relevant liberal Zionism. We need it in order to make an Israel that is benign and just that its youngersts will have a sense of belonging and pride even if things will get tough, and things will get tough and we need that renewed Zionism so Israel is relevant to Jewish youngsters in the diaspora, so Israel will be a source of inspiration and not a source of embarrassment. When you look back at what we have done I think we have to get over the differences, over the patterns and see with admiration what our parents, grandparents have done, its time for us to love ourselves, it s time to appreciate what we have done, to have a sense of gratitude but also a sense of commitment. Jewish life in the last 70 years is the greatest triumph of the human spirit but if we are to maintain that triumph and if we ought to guarantee a Jewish future we have to act, history is watching us, we can do it, we must do it, it’s up to us. Thank you very much

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