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We need to talk about Israel.
Too often it seems that our conversations about Israel are either too cerebral to be meaningful, or too passionate to be intelligent. We need to be able to bring both our heads and our hearts to bear. This is no easy task, as we face at least three challenges.
Tent or Tank?How can we easily delineate the parameters of the tent, making it a Middle Eastern kind of tent – that has defined edges, but that is open to all sides?
How can we speak in universal terms without losing our own particular authenticity?
At Makom, the Israel Education Lab, we believe we have something to offer. An approach and a program that addresses all three of these challenges.
Let’s start from the universal. We would suggest that there are four questions underlying all conflict in the world…
1. One driving question underlying most news headlines is “How do we keep safe?”
2. The second question is: “Who are We and how should We behave?”
3. The third question is simple, but growing increasingly complex: “How can we be free?”
Often the most burning issues draw on all four questions together. As refugees desperately seek safety in Europe, and Europeans ask themselves what is their distinctly European response as well as their national response, while the principle of freedom of movement is suddenly in question, and borders represent a moral challenge – we can see that addressing these four questions is a way of speaking to the world, not just to Jews.
From Universal to Jewish
What is the Jewish way of wording these crucial universally-shared questions?
We at Makom add a question-mark to the four Hebrew words that make up the penultimate line of the Hatikvah Israeli National Anthem:
“To be” asks questions of Safety and Security. “People” asks about who We are and how We should behave. “Free” asks about Rights and Responsibilities, and “In Our Land” asks questions of home, homeland, and borders.
Before breaking down how these four questions play out in an Israeli context, let’s consider the four words as a sentence. “To Be a People, Free In Our Land” is something of a consensus aspiration.
In this language of liberal national aspiration, Israel is the embodiment of being the People of Israel, Free in the Land of Israel. There is also significant international support for the Palestinians to be a Palestinian People Free in the Land of Palestine.
Anyone who does not agree that we have the right to be the People of Israel free in the Land of Israel, is “outside the tent”.
Rather than excluding some, this construction allows us to understand and include many more people “inside the tent”, and to dialogue far more constructively with those outside.
Here the Four Hatikvah Questions (4HQ) come into their own. For while we can expect those “inside the tent” to agree with the sentence, we don’t have to reach consensus on the answers to the questions!
To be? All of us inside the tent agree that Israel should exist. But we do not all agree on the way we should define an existential threat. It is entirely legitimate to argue about the best means to defeat or neutralize a threat, and we are bound to continue to question whether or when we are free to disregard a threat and to just be..
The Jewish People? It would be impossible to be “inside the tent” of pro-Israel discourse without acknowledging the centrality of the Jewish People to the enterprise. But it is completely fair to question the way in which Jewish tradition and religion plays a role in modern Israel. Questions of social solidarity within Israel, and between Jews throughout the world will always be ongoing policy questions. And the way in which the Jewish People should relate to people who are not Jewish will rightly resonate throughout our moral considerations. The fact that we might argue on this question does not make us anti-Zionists…
Free? To imagine a State of Israel that is not democratic is anathema to real lovers of Israel. But questions of pluralism, electoral systems, of how ongoing control over areas East of the Green Line affects our democracy, questions of human rights, creativity, innovation – these are the kind of questions that keep us alive!
In Our Land? The days of considering the Uganda Plan are long gone – Israel must be located in Biblical Israel. But which part? How large a part? With access to other parts? What makes a homeland? These are all legitimate, live, and crucial questions.
The Zionist enterprise can be defined as the ongoing drive to implement ever-better answers to these four questions of Hope.
When it comes down to it, the Israel conversation is made up of four questions.
The Four Hatikvah Questions.
4HQ. The Four Questions of Hope.
4HQ is a simple way to contain the complexity that is Israel. It is universal yet particular, and it offers a constructive approach to the “Big Tent”.
How can we put 4HQ to use?
A Thinking Tool
First of all, 4HQ is a way to listen to Israel conversations, and a way to think clearly about Israel issues. What is she saying? What is he shouting about? Listen for which of the underlying questions they are asking, and address them. The conversation will be far richer, far more constructive. When the latest headline screams across the Washington Post or New York Times, see where it addresses which of the Four Hatikvah Questions. Is it about existential threat? Is it about being Jewish? Is it about democracy? The Land?
A Mapping and Planning Tool
When looking at a calendar of events, ask yourself whether you are covering all four of the questions? If you notice a weight on questions of security and land, with little addressing freedom, perhaps your programming has a right-leaning bias. If freedom dominates your agenda, with no acknowledgement of threats, then the chances are you are leaning left-wards! Programming that wishes to both represent the fullness of Israel, and the breadth of your community’s connections to Israel, should attempt to address all four questions.
An Aid to Celebration
When we celebrate Chanukah, or Pesach, there are one or two texts, a few traditions, that we can easily refer to every year. But Yom Ha’atzmaut? What exactly is it that we are celebrating? For the first time in two thousand years, ever since May 14th, 1948, we have been able to answer all four primary questions of hope with a resounding “Yes!” Do we exist? Are we a living breathing People? Do we rule ourselves democratically in the Land of Israel? Yom Ha’atzmaut is the day to celebrate the fundamentals.
A Response Tool
When the latest hot topic comes burning across the media, and the community looks to you to convene a conversation in response, we tend to look to 4HQ. For example, when Prime Minister Netanyahu came to speak to the U.S. Congress, some communities wished to watch a live screening of the speech, and then sit around tables to talk about what they saw and heard. We at Makom provided them with discussion table mats, presenting key questions in the framework of 4HQ.
Makom training in 4HQ
Tools are one thing, but learning how to use them is another thing entirely!
- Makom can come to you and run short or in-depth customized training for your staff, lay leaders, and/or para-professionals.
- We can offer 4HQ training as a component of your trip to Israel, and/or build for you a a 4HQ-filtered tour of Israel.
- You can turn to us for source materials, discussion guides, etc, according to your needs.
For more details please contact Robbie Gringras,
Makom’s Creative Director, on robbieg [at] jafi [dot] org
I was watching Sky News the other day. (I use it as a sleeping pill. I call it Sky Snooze.) They were going over the day’s newspapers. One guest annoyed me so much I nearly woke up when she said: “It’s lucky we have the Olympics, otherwise there’d be no news to write about!”
Clearly for her the military implosion of Syria, the financial implosion of Europe, the US elections, and Iranian nuclear ambitions are not worth writing about.
But she did get me thinking about one delightful aspect of the Olympics.
Israel doesn’t feature.
And I’m not talking about Munich memorials, I’m talking about the games themselves. Finally, happily, Israel has reached a news-worthy-ness that is proportionate to its size and global importance: pretty close to none.
Israel has won zero medals, along with the other 50-odd countries who haven’t won anything either. Not even any stinging defeats, heart-breaking injuries, or surprising disappointments: nada.
We’re not on the Olympic map.
It’s been so long since Israel has been internationally insignificant – I think we should enjoy it while it lasts. Perhaps this is the “normality” the early Zionists were dreaming of?
I don’t normally like Israeli songs that are written and performed in English.
I’m a great fan of Tamar Eisenman’s artistry, and of Asaf Avidan’s surreality, but what can I tell you – I’m an old-school Zionist. I’m big on our developing and Israeli-Jewish culture in Hebrew. You don’t need to – even I call me old-fashioned. I kind of think that if we can’t even create our own renewal of Jewish culture here in the Holy Land, then really what are we doing here?
But just now a great song came out by an Israeli woman who writes and performs in English. This one made it past my usual barriers. It’s one of those rare Israeli songs that while escaping the particularity of Hebrew, doesn’t feel the need to escape Israel and her issues. To Full Post
Dear Los Angeles Jewish community who raised us,
First of all, I want to say thank you. Thank you for giving us opportunities, education and the chance to be whomever we want to be.
We grew up in a privileged environment, and we really do appreciate it. You taught us so much about the world, and for a long time whatever you said was all that mattered. You gave us a Jewish education through Jewish day school, camp, Hebrew school, temple and family Shabbat dinners that taught us how to braid challah, read Torah and love Israel.
Yes, we learned to love Israel. We went to Israel on exchange programs, youth-group trips, family vacations. We climbed Masada, floated in the Dead Sea and had unforgettable experiences at the Western Wall. We visited family, learned Hebrew and made friendships that will last a lifetime. We found our second home.
We went off to college and you told us to learn — learn to think critically, write a research paper, explore new interests, befriend people from other cultures. As much as you may think we don’t listen, you may be surprised to find that we aren’t sullen teenagers anymore. We listened. We are studying at 2 a.m., joining clubs, making new friends and, most of all, thinking critically. About everything. Including Israel.
Here is where we have reached a contradiction in our education. You see, you always told us to be the change we wish to see. To make a difference. To ask questions. To not stand idly by. Tzedek, tzedek, tirdof — seek justice, and pursue it. So we have. We were the leaders of the community service clubs, volunteered at SOVA, and lobbied our government to fight against discrimination and social injustice in the United States. To Full Post
From my perspective, the “Come Home” videos suggest a profound indictment of Jewish education and identity formation in Israeli secular culture. To Full Post
I didn’t really care all that much about Daphne Leef.
I knew that she’d been the person to plant the first tent on Rothschild Boulevard, and I knew that she was one of the people identified as a ‘leader’ of this amorphous yet ever-growing protest movement.
My understanding of the protests was that they had occurred spontaneously, and while its heart was consistent, its demands were constantly evolving. It was, and mostly continues to be, an open source kind of protest. As an open source protest, I was less concerned about the personal history of its leaders. I read various position papers from the various groups involved, and developed my own – positive – view of their general aims.
My most extraordinary religious experience took place on a mountain top in the north of Israel. The winding path to Mount Meron was lined with holy men, charlatans and peddlers pressing me to buy blessings, trinkets, food and drink. At the summit were hundreds of tents belonging to Sephardi families who camp out for a week before the festival; tied to each tent was a young lamb.
For years, one terrible aspect of Israeli society has towered above the others as the most annoying, disgusting, frustrating and downright outrageous. I speak, dear reader, not of racial intolerance, not of environmental laziness, nor even of peace-process-disingenuity. No, the topic of this blog is much, much worse than any of these, which by comparison may be forgiven as mere… oversights. I speak here of bank charges.
“Free checking”. The phrase will be familiar and unremarkable to all American readers, and, appropriately translated, to British ones too. It works like this: I give the bank some of my money. As long as my account is in credit, I let the bank do whatever it likes with that money of mine: it can lend it to other people and charge them interest; it can invest it; it can stuff it under its mattress for all I care, but the key point is that it doesn’t charge me for that privilege. I give you my money, you don’t charge me for basic services.
In amongst the turbulence across the world this week, with a horrific suicide bombing attack in Russia, the ‘Palestine Papers’, Lebanese, Tunisian, and now Egyptian upheavals, I went parochial.
In Britain many of my friends are mobilizing to protest the non-decision of the Board of Deputies. The Board of Deputies of Jews is kind of the parliament of Jews in Britain, and it refused to adopt a motion supporting “the Two State solution”. Petitions are being signed to urge the Board of Deputies to reconsider.
I am a “settler.” Because I am a settler, artists and members of the academic community – some of whom are my close friends – have decided to boycott my home. I am a settler, the archetypical Other of Israeli evil.
Otherness is the darling of people who hate. It allows people of every stripe, left, right and center, to dissociate from certain people as a dehumanized class without thought or regret, and to hate without pangs of guilt. Throughout history, Jews have played the role of Other. In the world community today, Israel itself often plays the role of Other. Now I am the Other. I am the Other because I am a “settler,” and in the eyes of some, that is what defines me.