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Responding to Israel’s New Reality

The following is a transcript of Episode 63 of the For Heaven’s Sake Podcast. Note: This is a lightly edited transcript of a conversation, please excuse any errors. 

Donniel: My name is Donniel Hartman and I’m the president of the Shalom Hartman Institute, and this is For Heaven’s Sake, a podcast from the Hartman Institute’s iEngage Project. Our theme for today is responding to the new Israeli reality, or how should we respond? 

In each edition of For Heaven’s Sake, Yossi Klein Halevi, senior research fellow at the Institute here in Jerusalem, and myself discuss the current issue, central to Israel and the Jewish world, and then Elana Stein, director of Hartman faculty in North America, explores with us how classical Jewish sources can enrich our understanding of the issue. Let’s begin. 

Many Israelis and Diaspora Jews are still reeling from the shock of the electoral victory of Netanyahu’s Likud party and its ultranationalist and ultra-Orthodox partners. Each day seems to bring with it new previously inconceivable headlines from far-right rightist Ben Gvir, the new Minister of Internal Security, who may be given unprecedented authority over the police force, to the placing of control of much of the affairs of Judea and Samaria in the hands of Betzalel Smotritch, to various coalition partners and members declaring their desire to change the Law of Return, pass an override bill that would grant a simple 61 majority in the Knesset the right to override Supreme Court decisions. 

How should centrist and center-left and left-wing Israelis and even center right-wing Israelis and diaspora Jews respond to these possible threats to Israel’s democracy and liberal Jewish commitments? Because these threats go beyond and transcend the left and right-wing divides, which were so central to much of our thinking. This is really unprecedented. 

In Israel, some are calling for extreme drastic action like mass civil disobedience. Some even go further to argue and to advocate for some form of a tax revolt in protest of the vast sums that will be diverted to the Ultraorthodox community in settlements.

In North America, some are speaking of boycotting certain Israeli ministers, protesting, coordinating efforts to undermine Israel supporting congress, et cetera, but many others are just contemplating walking away. What is the best way to respond? How should we, those in the center-right and left, who care about Israel’s democracy, who care about its relationship to world Jewry, who care about the rule of law, what is the best way for us to respond at this moment? 

This Yossi is a heavy issue. And I’m now in North America. Elana, you’re in North America. Yossi, uh, I’m on the fourth week of my trip. Yossi, you just came back. So, with the exception of Elana, who doesn’t have the, necessarily the Israeli side, we’ve all been engulfed and speaking and meeting with, with Jews from both sides of the, I don’t know, is it called the pond? Yossi. What’s your feeling? What’s your take now? What’s constructive?

Yossi: You know, I, I try to process traumas and, uh, challenges through writing. I sit down and I try to write a column and it’s therapeutic and I hope it’s useful for some people. I’ve been trying for weeks to write a column. Nothing comes out right. I have dozens of pages. I have a novella, at this point. You know, what is constructive to say, I, I have different directions, nothing coherent.

And I think that I’m emerging from the shock and the depression, but honestly, Donniel, I don’t have clarity. And this is after weeks of meeting with American Jews, American Jewish leaders, speaking to groups, and trying to give some direction to, to people. I, I, you know, I have a few ideas, but really what’s a, a coherent way forward? What’s your thinking? I hope you, I hope you’re more coherent than I am.

Donniel: Um, listen, I asked the question. um, I, I set myself up. What is that? 

But, but, but the truth is, is that I limited the discussion from the beginning and I did so intentionally. I didn’t ask you, how are you responding? I asked you what’s constructive. And I feel that that has to guide us. I wanna know any Jewish leader or educator who writes something, speaks something. I wanna know what your theory of change is. Now I could accept that not everybody’s gonna be as controlled as I’ll be. You know, I have decades of learning how to put myself into action mode and override my feelings because of a job that I have to do, something that you and I, we both, that goes back to our army days, where in many ways we were trained to disassociate ourself and to do what was necessary. 

Now, I understand that people are fearful. I understand that people are, are even panicking. But I really believe that we have to ask ourself now what is constructive? If you make a declaration or you write an op-ed, and now by the way, everybody’s a journalist, so everybody now, it’s one thing when you’re a journalist and you have to report, and you wanna report and you wanna critique. But now we’re all journalists, you know? I’m sorry, Yossi, it’s like,

Yossi: No. So look, you know, Donniel, I’m there. I’m there. I’m with you.

Donniel: Good. So now I, I believe

Yossi: But, but I, that doesn’t, that doesn’t, that doesn’t help give me clarity,

Donniel: I’m getting there. I’m just warming up. 

What I think is gonna be constructive is anything that could help change the reality in Israel. If the purpose of your conversation or your statements is just gonna distance people, I appreciate it. I understand it. I may even understand where it’s coming from, but protest alone, which causes greater alienation, is something that I want all of us to be very, very careful from. 

Now I have a theory of change. I have a theory of change in which we have to fight for the Israel we want. That the government of Israel is only one factor in determining reality in Israel. It’s not the only factor, it just isn’t. It’s a significant factor. They have the power to legislate. But now this other government was in power, a prior coalition was in power for a year plus. Did Israel completely change? Have all the settlements been dismantled? Have Haredim all of a sudden lost their funding from the country? The reality is that they haven’t. 

There are so many levels of a society in which civil society, in fact, is far more important to shaping everyday life than a minister even, or a government proclamation. So part of what I want to ask people is I want us to be aware of what the government’s doing. And in many ways, I want of all of us, if you are for this government, then celebrate. But if you’re not, to focus all our attention on every single statement that somebody is gonna make and to create this constant cycle, I was speaking about this the other day. 

There’s a new six day cycle in Jewish life, followed by Shabbat. The cycle goes something like this, Yossi. Someone makes a statement. It’s not a legislation, it’s not thought out, it’s not agreed by everybody. But it’s a statement. It’s a statement worthy of coverage in the press and the press have a job to cover it, and it’s an aggravating, alienating, upsetting, sometimes ultranationalist, sometimes racist statement, front headlines, it’s there. Then from that day, for the next five days, every single Jewish leader and commentator is gonna critique that statement. 

So now from this one statement, we now have six days in which we are now responding to it. Then we have Shabbat. Then the cycle’s gonna continue again. There’ll be another statement and another five days of response. And this is gonna go on and on. And I could see the next four years, there’s something perverse. I don’t wanna live that way. Yossi, I don’t wanna live in constant response to every single ultranationalist burp, critique, or even legislation.

Yossi: Or even legislation. No, I, I, no. I think we need a multiplicity of responses. And one of the essential responses is to put the government on notice that it is being monitored, critiqued, that every burp is being noted, and certainly any move to legislation is going to be challenged by what Gadi Eizenkot, the former IDF Chief of Staff, said uh, will require a million people in the streets. That’s one level of response and one doesn’t negate the other. 

Now I’m with you, Donniel, that we need to find ways of speaking to that part of the Israeli public, which happens to be the majority. That, and that’s not my camp. I’m now in the minority, and I have to find ways of speaking with respect, of trying to make my case in a way that can be heard by the Israeli majority. And my starting point is that the language, and we’ve spoken about this, the language that dominates American discourse, the language of the deplorables, that has no place in Israeli discourse.

And the fact that, that we do have people on the other side who are ready to listen is born out by the polls of the last few days. I don’t know how much you’re following from the states, but there’s been a whole series of polls. Yeah.

Donniel: Yossi, Yossi, there’s something called internet.

Yossi: Internet. Shamati mashehu, aval lo yodeia, lo yodeia. 

Donniel: There’s something, it comes across, even

Yossi: I don’t, I don’t, I don’t trust the, the technological.

Donniel: You don’t trust.

Yossi: But uh, the polls have been very encouraging.

Not only are a majority, 61% according to Channel 12, are worried about the future of Israeli democracy, but 40% of those who voted for the Netanyahu bloc parties are also worried about the future of democracy here. A large majority oppose changes in the religious status quo, oppose changes at the wall, oppose changes in the law of return.

So we’re the minority, in one sense, and I think we have to remember that we’re the majority in another sense. And so the question is why do we keep finding ourselves in the minority when so many Israelis agree with us on other issues? What is the Achilles heel of the liberal camp? And I think we know the answer.

The answer is security. People voted, half a million Israelis voted for Ben Gvir, not because they suddenly woke up one morning and said, you know, Kahana tzadak, Kahana was right. They voted for Ben Gvir, most of them, because they have good security reasons to be afraid. Because there is a drastic decline in personal security, a rise in terrorism, and Israelis are looking for answers.

Now, I think they’re looking in very bad places for those answers. But between that and dismissing all of Ben Gvir’s voters as fascists, how do we make a distinction?

Donniel: So Yossi, I’m with you. So let’s leave the analysis of that. So first of all, and this is important, it turns out that maybe you nor I were not in the minority, and it’s important to recognize that. But when you mentioned Eizenkot, Eizenkot made a statement. He said, we have to go into the streets. That’s a theory of change. That’s a theory of change. 

How is it that you create change in Israeli society? How is it that you marshal, is it 50%, is it 60% of those who are concerned about democracy, those who are concerned about state and religion, those who are concerned about human rights, those who worry about the security of the state of Israel and the Jewish people, who live there, also want that security to coincide with a commitment to democracy that it isn’t an either/or. 

And that very often the nature of elections is that it accentuates differences, makes things very, black, white, either, or, and you make these decisions, and then afterwards you have to leave live with nuances. Very often what happens is coalitions themselves begin to nuancify themselves in ways that are far more complicated than the slogans they mentioned beforehand.

Yossi: Nuancify. You, you didn’t think I would let that pass without comment?

Donniel: I was wondering, I was wondering, but it’s a word that should be added.

Yossi: It should be.

Donniel: It should be. It’s, I think it turns it into a verb. I have no idea what I did with it, but it’s something. Now what I don’t want to be understood, and I’m sure some of our audiences here is saying, ah, Donniel’s whitewashing it, Donniel, because he’s a Zionist, which is true, and because Donniel is concerned about the relationship between Israel and World Jewry, which is true, and because Donniel doesn’t want the Jewish people to walk away from each other, that is true, Donniel is choosing everything that will avoid some of the more severe consequences. That’s true. 

Now I’m with you. I’m not interested in giving this government a pass for anything that is ultranationalist, immoral, racist, in any way whatsoever. But I’m asking is this elevation of the, you know, more Jews now know the name Ben Gvir than they know Yair Lapid. I guarantee it. More people, all of a sudden, we all know about Smotritch, Ben Gvir, the Noam party. Who ever heard of the Noam party?

Yossi: Ah, but there’s a, there’s a but there’s an but, wait, wait. Donniel. There’s a great example of change. Avi Maoz, who was a nobody a few weeks ago came into the Knesset on a party of one, an anti-LGBTQ party. Netanyahu gives him outsized authority within the education ministry and what happens? There’s a revolt among local authorities.

We will not accept curriculum from Avi Maoz, one city after another, one town after another, announced a revolt. Civic revolt. What does Netanyahu do? What he always does when people push back against him, he backs down. Netanyahu is a bully who invariably will back down if, if you stand up to him. And he’s now beginning to strip Maoz of some of his authority.

And he’s reassuring the education ministry that Maoz is not going to have far-reaching authority. Now there’s an example, right now, of how change happens. Now, I’m not saying that that needs to be our mode of operation across the board, but don’t take out of the toolbox something that’s already proven successful. And let’s look at a multiplicity of responses from education and dialogue with political opponents to pressure when necessary.

Donniel: I’m, I’m all for pressure. And you’re right, the nature of every government is that it does respond to pressure. I’m not trying to depressurize the discourse. I’m trying to focus 

Yossi: Detoxify and I, and I appreciate that.

Donniel: Detoxify, Yossi. As I was traveling around North America and I wonder whether you’ve experienced the same thing, I found that the fear itself and experiencing it was becoming an end. It’s not that people wanted it,

Yossi: Yes,

Donniel: It was forced upon people,

Yossi: yes, yes.

Donniel: It’s engulfing us and becoming a reality unto itself. To talk about the fear, to delve into the fear to, I don’t wanna say obsess about, it’s not obsessive. It’s just being frightened is becoming a primary aspect of our relationship with Israel.

Yossi: So let’s make a distinction, Donniel, right? This is a useful distinction between being overwhelmed by fear and being alert to danger. And the danger is coming fast and furious. And we need to name it. We need to understand what’s happening. And yet not be paralyzed by fear. Now, how do you do that? How do you do that?

Donniel: You see, but here, let’s go back to the example with, you mentioned, of the, I think it came to 61 or 62, mayors and heads of regional councils. What happened? They got up and we said, excuse me, we are gonna take control over the education of our children. We’re not gonna allow a homophobic, misogynist, thirteenth-century thinker determine the future of Israeli society. We marshaled our forces. 

It’s about building. It’s about asking ourselves what is the Israel we want? And I have a feeling, and I know I’m always an optimist. And I know I always wanna see the rosy side. And it’s true, I do. But fact is that I believe people voted for a multiplicity of reasons and some of the statements being put forth by individual representatives of various parties are far outside of the consensus of Israel and they will actually be very conducive to restructuring what you and I were so excited about. And that is a national unity, not government, but a national unity social coalition.

Yossi: A contract, we need a new contract.

Donniel: We need a new contract. And I believe that so many Israelis since, as you said, we vote for fear. That the primary fear is existential. There’s certain existential fears that people are worried about and they vote for them and they ignore the others. But now part of what’s happening is people are saying that’s not the, I also have, I’m frightened of that too. I’m not just frightened about what’s happening in the Negev and the Galil, I am frightened about that. I’m not just frightened about what’s happening in mixed cities, I’m frightened about that. I’m not just frightened about the fact that the reality is is that Israel has a remarkably powerful army, but a remarkably disempowered police force. We have to deal with that. But now I’m also frightened about other things.

And so I don’t wanna play on that fear. But the reality is, is that there is a possibility to marshal a social coalition. And when Israeli Jews and North and Israeli Arabs and, and North American Jews and lovers of Israel around the world push and fight for and declare not just a criticism of, but statements regarding what is the Israel that we want, push and advocate for that we the we could cha

Yossi: Now we’re getting somewhere. Now we’re getting somewhere. I, I love this idea of a national conversation on a new, on a new understanding or a reaffirmation of what it is that’s essential about Israeli identity. What is Israel? And it’s so interesting because this election, this series of elections has metamorphosized from initially being a referendum on Netanyahu, yes Netanya, no Netanya. Then it became a referendum on security. And that’s what this last election was about. 

But what’s actually playing out is neither of those issues. What’s playing out is a much deeper fundamental conversation over what do we mean by a Jewish state and what do we mean by a democratic state?

Because there are forces in this government that are riding their return to power, and taking a mandate that they do not have from the electorate to make far-reaching changes in the deepest level of Israeli identity. And that’s where we need to bring the conversation back to.

Donniel: That’s great, and what’ll be really interesting, Yossi, to see is what are the issues that are raised. Now, LGBTQ rights. There’s a very, very strong national consensus, utside of the Ultraorthodox community, even, even within half of the religious Zionist community, there’s a strong

Yossi: And Donniel, not for ideological reasons, but for family reasons. They’re are our kids. 

Donniel: That’s, it could be.

Yossi: It’s a very Israeli attitude. 

Donniel: That’s true. And it’s interesting also for not changing the law of return. There’s a very strong lobby, there’s a very strong social force and it’s very interesting your observation. It could be that it’s ideological and it could be that it is, it’s just our families. We don’t like it when people disqualify fellow Jews. 

But the issue is, are we gonna be as vigilant on issues of state and religion? Are we gonna be as vigilant on issues of the override clause and democracy? Are we gonna be as vigilant on rights of Israeli Palestinians? So there are certain issues that the, you know, when the 62 or 61 mayors came forth, it was mostly saying, you’re not gonna change our, the curriculum that we are creating in our schools, which is a curriculum for tolerance, for people with different gender identities.

What about curriculum for tolerance with different Jewish identities, with different religious identities? So you could see distinctions between the mayor of Tel Aviv, who’s far more nuanced on this, and a mayor may be in Bat Yam, who maybe that’s not his issue. So what will this coalition be? 

And our job is to shape it not only on issues in which we naturally have this sense of communal loyalty, but it’s precisely those in which there’s a vision of Israel, a stand on Human Rights. What Palestinians in Judea and Samaria don’t have rights? What Israeli Palestinians don’t have rights? What is it we’re gonna do? What are the statements that we’re gonna tolerate? This is gonna be a very, very serious issue. And this national unity, I don’t know what we want to call it, social coalition, is gonna be tested on our ability to expand outside of that which is already the core family.

Yossi: Our challenge is to develop a language that isn’t political, but is identity-based. And when we speak politically, we lose the other camp. When we speak from a place of shared identity and values, that’s when we begin to have an opening for shared conversation. And we know that. We know that at the Hartman Institute. We know that from our own conversations. We need to take that and begin spreading that in Israeli society.

Donniel: Now the issue, where it gets complicated, and this I appreciate very much, is that when you’re in Israel, you feel profoundly empowered. When you’re outside of Israel and you can’t march, you feel disempowered. And it’s true, you do. 

But then I want to, I wanna speak to my, to my colleagues and friends and rabbis and educational and political leaders of the American Jewish community. I know that your ability to march is not as significant, because there’s some, you’re 6 to 10,000 miles away. But beware of this constant cycle of op-ed criticisms because it’s not about creating a coalition, a new coalition, it’s about critiquing a government. And it places you and your followers more outside of the conversation than inside it.

We Israelis and you together, we have to find ways for you to participate. And it can’t just be through funding. That’s true. It’s not bad. But that’s not the only way. There has to be a way of parallel protests, conversations, engagement with, learning about, increasing dialogue betwee, which enables North American Jews in the United States and Canada to feel empowered and to be seen as partners in a conversation.

Even Avigdor Lieberman, who used to say, I don’t care about world Jewry, now all of a sudden is turning to world Jewry and saying, one second, do you really wanna change the law of return? Even he, okay, that means we recognize that what Jews around the world, is important. Now, how do you do so in a way which doesn’t give all the power to Ben Gvir and Smotritch and Maoz and other negative forces? How do you not enable them to dominate your consciousness?

Yossi: So one of the things that, yes.

Donniel: And instead to build it with the partners, be part of that coalition. That’s gonna be a critical issue.

Yossi: One of, yeah. One, yes. Okay.

Donniel: Yossi, last word, and then we’re gonna turn to.

Yossi: One of the messages that I was offering to American Jewish audiences on this last trip was we need to start nurturing a conversation between the American Jewish mainstream and the Israeli political center. Until now, far too many liberal American Jews saw their main address in Israel and in Israeli politics as being on the left, the Labor party, Meretz, even farther left, smaller, extra-parliamentary groups.

What this election proved decisively is that the divide in Israel today is no longer left versus right. It’s center versus right. And American Jews need to start reorienting their notion of who their conversation partners are, who their allies are politically in Israel, from the left to the center, in order to really begin creating a, a more substantive alliance and then let’s see what develops, you know, without any agenda. Just, let’s start a conversation.

Donniel: Let’s take a short break and then, uh, Elana will join us. 

Elana, how are you feeling today?

Elana: Well, you know, what I’m seeing is travel in America is very good for your optimism, both of you. This is, this is what I’m noticing. It’s pretty great. 

Um, I’m actually not surprisingly, I’m kind of feeling how much easier it is to talk about a different country’s problems than about our own. And I do wanna point out that it takes a tremendous amount of self-discipline to talk about your own society and ask how can I be constructive? And not just, how can I share my anger right now, which I think is just, it’s great and I wanna think about how I do that within an American context, also.

I’m thinking a lot about Chanukkah, because it’s coming and there’s the piece of it that nobody likes to talk about, which is the Civil War piece. In fact, when you look at the book of Maccabees, the way that Chanukkah started was through a sense of, um, mi l’Hashem eli, who is for God come to me ,and everybody else you can go, you know where. And there was violence, it was ugly and it’s not for naught we kind of hide that part of the story and that part of the story doesn’t become central. 

And when I look at what’s going on right now, the fear that we’re talking about and the potential for legislation that could lead to violence or could encourage violence in one way or another, I really worry about the idea of the Jewish people globally being in some sort of civil war. And I really don’t want that. 

So, I wanna start, you know, you’re talking about within Israeli society itself, I’m thinking about both within Israeli society, global Jewry. And so I, I wanna start with a very simple verse from Proverbs, from Mishlei. It’s a beautiful verse and it, it goes like this: As face answers to face in water, so does one person’s heart to another. So something about water, something about faces. And so the midrash in Mishlei, 27:4 for those who like to look these things up. 

Uh, Rabbi Chanina says, what do you mean, water doesn’t have a face? What do, what do you mean as face answers face in water? He says, what does it mean? When someone puts water into a vessel and looks into it, they see their reflection. The same works with a heart. When I show a certain attitude and visage to people. They see that visage and they become that visage. 

And I do think, and I’ve seen this in the United States, back to the deplorables point, when you look at other people in a way that manifests that you think they’re ugly, look at you and think you are ugly. When you look at them with anger and animosity, they look at you with anger and animosity. And it is a never-ending cycle of anger and animosity. And those cycles can blow up, but even if they don’t blow up, it is such a bad way to live. It is just such a bad way to live. And so that’s the first thing that I wanna put on the table, which is, let’s not get into this cycle of animosity. 

And I think, Donniel, to your point of the orientation primarily of criticism, actually, it continues that cycle. You criticize, they criticize, you criticize, they criticize until, you know, before you know it, you know, you thought you were gonna go to couples counseling, but it turns out relationship’s over, it’s too late. 

We don’t really want to do that. So that’s the first thing that I wanna say. Even as I wanna say, I, I feel that struggle within American society, and I don’t, I don’t think we’re doing so well about it. The second thing that I wanna say is I wanna go to protest for a minute, because there is a really strong rabbinic value of protest, right?

The Gemara in Shabbat 54B. Anyone who had the capability to effectively protest, right? The Hebrew for it is a micha, right? To effectively protest sinful conduct of somebody else, and they didn’t, of their household and they didn’t, they were also blamed for the sins of their household. If you were in a position to protest the sinful contact conduct of the people of your town, and you don’t, you’re also in trouble for what your town did, if you could have protested the sinful conduct of the whole world and you failed to do so, you’re also caught in the web of whose fault is it? Well, it’s partially your fault.

But what I think is even more provocative is on the next, you know, it’s always on the next folio of the Talmud. It’s like we look at like the nice little, here’s the two lines. But no, you gotta keep, you gotta go a little bit deeper and it basically, it cites a verse in Ezekiel chapter nine, verse four, where God, basically says, I want you to put a mark on the heads of all the people who are innocent, so that when it’s time for punishment, none of them will get hurt. 

And the Gemara says as follows, the Talmud says as follows. God says to the angel Gabriel, go and inscribe a mark of ink on the foreheads of the righteous as a sign so that the angels of destruction will not have dominion over them and inscribe a mark of blood, now this is already very violent, and inscribe a mark of blood on the foreheads of the wicked as a sign that the angels of destruction will have dominion over them. And then the attribute of justice comes in and says, wait, wait, wait, wait, what’s the difference between these people who you’re saying are righteous? And those people who you’re saying are wicked. 

So God says, what do you mean I, I said, these are full-fledged righteous people, and these are full-fledged wicked people. And the attribute of justice says, what do you mean? If you’re righteous and you don’t protest the conduct of the wicked, what makes you so righteous? God says, no, no, no, no, no. You don’t understand. I know that even if they had protested the conduct of the wicked, the wicked wouldn’t have accepted their reprimand. And so I, you know, I let them off the hook. 

So the attribute of justice, it’s like I’m not always the biggest fan of the attribute of justice, but in this moment, the attribute of justice is just unbelievable. It says to God, well, you know that the wicked wouldn’t have listened to them, but did they know that? They didn’t know that, that wasn’t a foregone conclusion. 

And what I see in here is it, it really is important both for the sense of what’s right to be able to protest and say, even if you’re not sure that it’s gonna go anywhere, but there’s also a sense of we want you to be effective. We want that protest to actually go somewhere. So Yossi, when you talk about the protest of educational leaders saying, we’re not gonna enforce those groups, that’s a protest that’s actually gonna go somewhere, right? So where’s a protest where I’m saying it because I wanna show this is wrong and where’s a protest where I’m doing it because I effectively can do something here. And I do think that this is a big question for North American Jews.

Donniel: I, I agree with you. Um, I think we all agree with each other.

Elana: I know, here’s not a lot of argument for the sake of heaven here.

Donniel: There’s not a lot, this is, it’s true.

Elana: But there’s a lot of doing for the sake of heaven here.

Donniel: There’s a lot of doing for the sake of heaven. No, and, and these distinctions, and, it’s a tough one because I know a lot of my friends and colleagues who had different institutions, they get pressure from their congregants, from their donors, how come you didn’t respond? How come you didn’t respond? It’s your turn to respond. You know, everybody else is responding. How come you’re not responding? And the dynamic is a pressure to respond instead of having a serious debate as what’s gonna be helpful. 

Our colleague Yehuda Kurtzer made a really interesting distinction when people were asking him to respond to certain things. He said, I don’t respond to statements. I respond to policy changes, not statements about the policy changes and even about the policy changes, very often the first vote in the Knesset is what everybody, brouhaha is about, but it has to pass three readings and it’s only on the third reading that all the changes that, but everybody’s already checked out.

So this government is gonna challenge us. And many of the leaders, they’re gonna live in a desire to control the media ways and to control the conversation and almost waiting for us to constantly create that cycle of animosity, which they feed from too. All I am pleading for everybody is to recognize that this is a very dangerous moment. This is not a simple moment Israel is, or can possibly embody that none of us could have even imagined. 

How we’re gonna fight them, not how we’re gonna critique them is, I believe, the most significant challenge we face. And at the end of the day, being productive is going to determine not what your congregants or your donors like, but being productive is going to determine Jewish history.

Yossi and Elana, last words, and then we’ll conclude.

Yossi: Just to go back to where I began with my frustration and not being able to write something, you’ve actually made me feel a lot better about it because, uh, in a way this is a moment to pause. It’s a moment to think before you speak and publish. You don’t want to say anything that could be irrevocable, that could, God forbid, hurt Israel in ways that you don’t intent. And you want to be effective.

And we’re in new territory and we’re all going to, I think, need to take a deep breath and figure out how to be most effective, and Elana, really as you are making, I think, a very important distinction between, between being effective and effectively protesting when necessary, and venting because you just have to say something. I think we need to control the venting.

Donniel: Elana last words.

Elana: Yeah. My last word is actually about our colleague Tani Frank in Israel. Because I just saw two, and I think Tani was responsible for both of these. I just saw two incredible convenings that happened at Hartman Jerusalem in the last little while. One was about the law of return and one was about Shabbat in the public square, and the people I saw as part of the conversations there, it was across the spectrum. It was real community organizing across the spectrum to discuss and debate, not harangue, discuss and debate and figure out what is right for the society. And that is the kind of stuff that does not get press, but that’s the stuff that moves society. And I, I want us to see more of that in public and doing more of that in public. Cause it was, I was inspired.

Donniel: Thank you my friends. I would just say, you know, this is our last podcast for 2022. Our next podcast is gonna come out right after the New Years. But this is a chance for me, first of all to thank all of our listeners, because I hope you’re enjoying and learning because I have to tell you, I really appreciate this model because, Elana, Yossi, I feel so much better every time I talk with you.

So first I wanna thank all of our listeners for giving us the opportunity, cause I don’t know if we would’ve done this without them. So, first of all, I wanna thank all of you for allowing us to work out in front of you our frustrations, our struggles, our unworked out thoughts, and reveal our thought processes.

Yossi: And our hopes.

Donniel: And our hopes. Um, so first of all, I wanna thank all of you for that. And as you know, Elana, Yossi, as we travel, this podcast, is having more and more weight. And, uh, we also have a serious responsibility to what we say and how we say it.

Thank you for listening. To our friends. If this podcast is important to you, if this podcast is meaningful to you, if the work of the Hartman Institute is important and meaningful to you, as the year comes to an end, please join us. Help, contribute, support, listen, share, help make this happen. These things don’t happen in a void. And finally. Let’s give the official credits to those who do really all the hard work.

For Heaven’s Sake is a product of the Shalom Hartman Institute. It is produced by David Zvi Kalman, and edited by Gareth Hobbs at Silver Sound NYC. Our production manager is M Louis Gordon. Transcripts of our shows are now available on our website, typically a week after an episode airs.

To find them and to learn more about Shalom Hartman Institute, visit us online at We wanna know what you think about the show. You can rate and review us on iTunes, tell more people, discover the show. You can also write to us at [email protected]. Subscribe to our show in the Apple podcast app, Spotify, SoundCloud, Audible, and everywhere else podcasts are available. 

We’re gonna see you and be together at the beginning of 2023. 2022 was a great year for us. We have a lot of challenges and, um, as Yossi said, we have to work. Not just on fear. We also have to work on hope.

Be well, everybody. And, and Yossi and Elana, it was wonderful, wonderful being with you. Thank you.

Elana: Same.

Yossi: Thank you.

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