Sunday, February 21, 2010

National Treasure - the Key to our Future

I have to say how excited I am about PM Netanyahu's latest theme: Israeli and Jewish heritage. It all began with his speech at the Herzlia Conference:

Tonight, I refer to something even more basic. I am talking about educating children about the values connected to our identity and heritage, teaching children to know our people’s history, educating young people and adults to deepen our ties to one another and to this place.

I believe that this education starts, first and foremost, in the Book of Books – in the Bible – a subject that is close to my heart these days. It starts there. It moves through the history of our people: the Second Temple, the Middle Ages, the Enlightenment, leaving the ghettos, the rise of Zionism, the modern era, the wars fought for Israel’s existence – the history of Zionism and of Israel. A people must know its past in order to ensure its future.

There is a well-known story about Napoleon. One day, he passed by a synagogue on Tisha B’Av and he heard the weeping of the worshippers. He asked what they were crying about, and the Jews told him: “We are weeping because our Temple was destroyed.” He asked: “How can it be that I heard nothing about this?” He liked knowing what was going on. He wasn’t really interested, but he would have received a report. So the worshippers told him: “Sir, it happened more than 1,700 years ago.” And he told them: “A people capable of remembering its past so clearly has a guaranteed future.”

But the opposite is also true. Yigal Alon said so. He said that a people that doesn’t remember its past, its present is uncertain and its future is unclear. In other words, our existence depends not only on a weapons system, our military strength, the strength of our economy, our innovation, our exports,or on all these forces that are indeed essential. It depends, first and foremost, on the knowledge and national sentiment we as parents bestow on our children, and as a state to its education system. It depends on our culture; it depends on our cultural heroes; it depends on our ability to explain the justness of our path and demonstrate our affinity for our land – first to ourselves and then to others.

We must remind ourselves that if our feeling of serving a higher purpose dissipates, if our sources of spiritual strength grow weak, then – as Yigal Alon said – our future will also be unclear. It will happen if our young generation is not committed to our people and our country; if they do not love the pioneering spirit, if they do not travel our country, if they do not want to mobilize and sacrifice – then our future is truly unclear.

I am far from a Netanyahu fan, and I frequently feel a sense of depair that our country fails to address these fundamental issues. Now that Netanyahu has made this his pet project, including funding of 500 million NIS for a new "heritage trail" (see below) and today's cabinet meeting at Tel Chai, I am delighted to see education, Zionism and Jewish heritage on the national agenda. This represents an understanding that:

לא בחיל ולא בכח כי ברוחי - that it is not military might, but spritual fortitude that is the key to our success. (paraphrasing Zecharia ch.3)

In an era of "Big Brother" and "Survivor", how desperately we need this initiative. Ihope it is just the beginning.

And lest you think that Netanyahu is cooking up the entire thing as a right-wing political move, we should congratulate his son for winning the Jerusalem region Tanakh contest. These competitions are fiercely difficult, and his son's determination demonstrates how deeply the value of Tanakh has been instilled within him. I imagine that his father must have some share in that.

(p.s. The fact that the trail includes Gush Etzion: the sound and light show at Kfar Etzion, the Biyar aquaduct which lead to the Temple, and Herodian, is all the more exciting!)