Many people ask me how I can function in Israel under such turmoil, chaos, uncertainty, and insecurity. To make things worse, it appears that the country isn’t moving in the direction of the early Zionist leaders, and further, that the Knesset doesn’t reflect the spiritual and moral aspirations of the Jewish people in history.
The gap seems to be so great from the dreams you wrote about in books such as, A Living Covenant or A Heart of Many Rooms, they say. Why don’t I wake up, turn cynical, and stop living with dreams and hopes that seem to ignore the reality we live in?
I appreciate these concerns and questions. However, one of the important ideas I have written about is that Israel is not the fulfillment of all our messianic dreams of a just society overcoming greed and corruption, but rather it is an opportunity to translate the deepest values of our Judaic tradition into the concrete social and political aspects of reality. It is to bring the marketplace of everyday life into contact with the prophetic vision that has always been a part of Judaism.
I never saw Israel as the fulfillment of our deepest Judaic aspirations. Rather, Israel represents possibilities or opportunities. I don’t judge Israel’s progress by prophetic ideals of perfection, but rather by what kinds of opportunities the reality of Israel makes possible.
Israel expresses the courage of the Jewish people to dream within the concrete, to live actively, knowing we all live in an imperfect world, and that the people responsible for guiding our country are also imperfect and limited human beings.
How do you bring your total energy and passion to an imperfect world given the human condition? This is the challenge that the rebirth of Israel presents to all of us. I don’t experience Israel from utopian glasses, nor do I believe we are in a messianic drama.
How do we treat laborers, foreign workers, and the aged? How do we worry about those who came out of Holocaust, so that they don’t have to live in poverty or insecurity?
How do we build a health care system in which people are treated with dignity and respect and provided with the best available medical treatment? Our search for peace and not giving up hope and not turning cynical about the possibilities of a rapprochement between Palestinians and Israelis.
These issues are for me the everyday bread and butter of living in this country.
The belief that tomorrow may be different from yesterday is the gift that the reality of Israel has given me. As a former pulpit rabbi, it has taught me to leave my idealistic sermons, and to put my hands into the earth and try to change what is there, and to study and teach the way Judaism can contribute to these issues.
I don’t doubt that we are far away from realizing these aspirations. But I feel blessed and grateful that I live in a reality in which I am challenged to think about Judaism and its relationship to everyday life. I am eternally grateful that I live in a reality that can hopefully give expression to my deepest yearnings as a Jew.