Israeli apathy and Diaspora panic will bring about a decay of the Jewish people

Ha’aretz 12/7/12

Around this time last year, I wrote a piece for Haaretz about howHanukkah teaches us that we can move from passive acceptance to creative action concerning our fate. The point of the Jewish people having a state of our own is to have the ability to control our own destiny, so that things no longer just happen to us; we can affect the world.

This year for Sukkot I wrote another piece about how our desire for complete self-reliance is just as bad as our former state of victimhood; both demonstrate a ghetto mentality not fitting for a Jewish state.

I was at the United Nations on November 29, when the vote passed to upgrade Palestine’s status to non-member observer state. Having been there, seen the Israeli reactions and read hundreds of the opinion columns that followed, I’ve come to two conclusions:

First, we Jews in the Diaspora are most poetic when we describe our powerlessness, our enemies and our self-loathing. Clearly we have not internalized the lessons of Hanukkah.

Second, the Israeli public’s immediate reaction to adversity is flippancy. They have obviously ignored the lessons of Sukkot.

Following the November 29 vote, Jews in the Diaspora splashed articles throughout the media, providing marvelous analogies and crippling analyses. The range of emotions from rage, despair and anger to complete acceptance provided for a political spectrum that resembled a shiva, or seven-day Jewish mourning period.

Among Israelis, however, you would be hard-pressed to find anyone that was even slightly worried. “Who cares,” an Israeli journalist quipped to me, moments after the November 29 vote, “Nothing will change, life will go on, and we will never be able to change our situation.”

The famous Israeli apathy – generated from a toxic mixture of conscription, terrorism and living in a small, hot country – has resulted in a culture of solitude and cynicism. That doesn’t mean Israelis are depressed. Quite the contrary – they are rather happy as a nation. The14th happiest nation in the world, to be exact.

This flippancy is evident not only among the Israeli population, but also among their leaders, especially when they attempt to cope with situations that seem beyond their control. Whether using humor to conveydiplomatic messages or turning every crisis into a catchphrase, Israel’s leadersip has built a rhetorical repertoire that makes even the harshest of diplomatic entanglements seem to the population like water off a duck’s back.

As Jews around the world panic and feel victimized, the Israelis are insulated inside a self-reliant island -everything is a crisis to a Diaspora Jew; nothing is worth worrying about to an Israeli. Even on the most serious of issues – the Iranian nuclear threat – Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu draws cartoons and references ducks.

While panicked hand-wringing and resorting to morbid humor may seem like different reactions to the same problem, they are actually both signs that we, as a people, do not believe we can truly be masters of our own fate.

Furthermore, if panic and flippancy are the only reactions we can muster now, not only will the Jewish people suffer moral decay, we will perpetuate this disregard for our tradition, which urges us to strive and thrive. If we are ever to progress as a people, we must move beyond expecting disaster and failure in all circumstances.

Of course, one could just ignore and make fun of me. I am just another panicked Diaspora Jew after all.


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