28 July 2009

In the Hands of the Young

One could easily argue that the battle for the future of Israel is in the hands of young people--the vast majority of those pushing forward in the illegal construction of outpost settlements are teens, albeit those encouraged and supported by their elders; soldiers struggling with the ethical dilemmas of their service as we learned about Sunday during our meetings with those from "Breaking the Silence;"and future leaders from the United States who take informational tours into Bethelehem, led by "Encounter."

Yesterday afternoon, I took a walk to a spot near the Prime Minister's house where a rally was set to take off in protest of George Mitchell's visit to Israel, delivering a message from President Obama that illegal settlement construction had to cease as a good-faith effort from Israelis to Palestinians. The thousand people or so who showed up would hear no such thing, and in fact represent a movement of young Israelis, spurred on by their rabbis, to move the conflict to a confrontation that is likely to only get worse.

Army and police presence, poised to keep the peace, spread throughout the neighborhood, and seemed to constitute nearly 20% of those present, adding to the theater of it all. Secular and jaded Israeli journalists snapped pictures of the protesters ("Barak Hussein Obama: No you can't!" read one sign, mocked by a photographer as he took the picture. "Israel will not submit!" read another sign, held by a man in his seventies, khaki pants, polo shirt, cellphone on one side of his belt, revolver on the other. Not a retiring sort.)

Those present gave the impression of social misfits, a troubling minority that nonetheless in the their vocal displays and willingness to fight for what they believe in, are pushing their agenda aggressively. One had a sense that this sector of Israeli society is a distinct minority, very much on the losing side of history. The forces aligned trying to achieve a real, substantive peace are much stronger than they are; and the even greater forces are the thousands of people who are in the middle--they walked past, drove past, rode on buses and taxis past the rally on to their normal lives, simply wanting peace and quiet, not grand religious battles for the "soul" or "sanctity" of the land. Walking back from the rally, most Jerusalemites were in stores, in restaurants, heading home from work. Living out their sacred duty of living in the land and speaking the sacred language of Hebrew with as much honor and genuineness as those fighting for their own future in front of the Prime Minister's house.

Earlier in the day we visited the Belz Hasidim Headquarters, a massive structure that can hold ten thousand men for prayer and other sacred occasions, a Hasidic community virtually destroyed in the Holocaust and rebuilt and revitalized completely here in Jerusalem in the last 40 years. Politics figures in their lives only in so far as military exemptions for yeshiva students and other social service subsidies are continued. In the meantime, learning and acts of lovingkindness are the height of their social agenda. The Fellows asked some great questions. Roles of women, why don't you serve in the IDF, and my favorite: "Don't you think $70 million was a lot to spend on this building when you could have given it tzedakah?"

The answer we received was great. "We expect this building to be standing in 500 years, serving this community. In the long-run, a $70 million investment comes out to very little money per member per day." The confidence of the Belz spokesman's statement, the long-view of his community's thriving vision for a Jewish future were actually quite beautiful. And on a certain level, very hard to argue with, since prayer, learning, and acts of lovingkindness have been the pillars of Jewish life for two thousand years. The link into longevity and continuity was absolute.

The young learn Torah, the young build settlements, the young fight to make peace. The older generation makes decisions--but only so long as it takes for the young to start making decisions for themselves, decisively, with the power transferred to them. From where I sit, I consider it my sacred duty as a rabbi to empower the young--it's their present already that is quickly becoming their future and our past.

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