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Photo: Shaul Golan
Rabbi Yuval Sherlo
Photo: Shaul Golan
National atonement
We all have more than personal sins to atone for this Yom Kippur
Yom Kippur is not only a day for individual repentance. The entire nation presents itself and spells out its failures, asks God to forgive them, and promises to try to do better in the coming year.

 

If for many Yom Kippur has turned into National Bike Day, at least the adults should leave the games to the kids and join in national soul-searching.

 

Many schisms have ripped the country this year, some social, some political.

There is no room here to discuss them all, but we can at least begin to address a few of them.

 

Stereotypes

 

Let's begin with the good news: The par between different social groups is disappearing. In general, in light of a wide range of family
connections that are being created here, it's tough to speak of different ethnic Jewish groups such as "Ashkenazi" (European Jews) and "Sefardi" (Jews of North African or Arab descent.)

 

There are only a small pockets of Israel in which these distinctions retain their importance, many of these in the religious world, but there, too, important steps are being taken to break down the barriers.

 

But there is a huge sub-culture of Israeli citizens with no connection to Israeliness – immigrants from the former Soviet Union.

 

Israeli society must make every effort to learn from past mistakes, rather than to fall into the luring trap of stigmas and stereotypes.

 

We must work to free ourselves completely from attempts to classify people according to ethnic background or country of birth, and to accept everyone for what he or she is – part of the people of Israel.

 

Two stories about disengagement

 

As opposed to ethnic issues, the internal split with regard to our relationship to the land of Israel and the Zionist identity of Israeli society deepened over the past year to threatening depths. Therefore, we must not limit our discussion to political opinions and positions, but rather we must debate the trampling of one part of our society.

 

Israeli society has two narratives about the disengagement. There's not much to debate about the actual facts, but there is a deep split about the interpretation of those facts.

 

Whereas the majority of Israelis were not traumatized in any real way by the pullout, and viewed the move as positive, or at least legitimate, those hurt by disengagement see it as the most terrible thing that can happen to anation: The norms of ethical behavior, justice, the law and Zionism were trampled in order to expel a minority population from their homes.

 

There has been no attempt in Israeli society to resolve these two narratives. To the contrary: Voices on both sides calling to conduct a deeper, more significant disengagement are gaining strength. Each side is looking for outright victory over the other.

 

Yom Kippur is the time we ask for atonement, and the first thing each side must do in this regard is to make every effort to understand the position of the other.

 

There is much ground to cover before we can even approach the concept of "forgiveness."

 

Instead of doing typical Israeli soul searching – wailing about the sins and beating the other guy's chest – we must get together and honestly try to break the blocks that prevent us from hearing the narrative of the other side.

 

We must consider every possible way to stop the slide into an ever-deepening valley, one that is moving quickly from argument to actual violence.

 

Jewish identity vs. 'human dignity'

 

Because the main part of our attention has been focused on disengagement and its administration, we have not paid attention to another crises that at the same time has also been gaining strength – identity.

 

This is an even tougher crisis than the first one. The State of Israel is moving towards drafting a constitution, which would be a sort of Israeli identity card.

 

Despite the fact that an overwhelming majority of Israeli Jews accept the definition of this country as a Jewish-democratic state, there is a growing gap with relation to this definition.

 

In reality, two things are happening at once: On one side the Supreme Court – far removed from public opinion – controls Israeli public debate, and seeks to annul that which is created by the legislative branch.

 

By broadening the definition of "human dignity and freedom', the court has established basic norms that deepen the internal split, push the country further and further away from a Jewish identity and create reactions against it amongst the public.

 

At the same time, other bodies strengthen their Jewish identities in new and original ways. This is true in the religiously observant and secular, non-observant worlds. Both are seeking their own ways to create communities that can be accurately described as "Jewish."

 

Yom Kippur is an ideal opportunity to renew our connections with our Judaism. We are a nation of tradition and innovation, and we must strive for a better balance between the different parts of our nation, so that Judaism does not become something divisive, bur rather the basic common denominator of our identity.

 

It is important to stress that this identity must take into account the minorities that live amongst us and preserve their individual rights, despite our national definition as a state for the Jewish people.

 

Power and corruption

 

But the biggest and worst break in our society, and one that we need the most atonement for and must be totally changed, is the connection between money, power and the media.

 

Even more than all our competing ideologies, corruption has penetrated the highest levels of Israeli society, and it threatens the individual well-being of every single Israeli citizen.

 

The seeds of corruption lie in politicians paying off party members with jobs, in the lack of any societal ethos, in the functioning of the judicial establishment with respect to private citizens, in the lack of public criticism, in a sloppy media that often abuses human dignity and freedom by addressing details irrelevant to their stories, in religious establishments cold-hearted to the fate of women whose husbands refuse to grant them divorces, and much, much more.

 

A society that loses faith in itself, that stands by and watches as the rich and powerful consolidate power, plants the seeds of revolution and a volcanic eruption.

 

Today, we see many initial signs of this phenomenon, and these are the reasons so many Israelis feel alienated and frustrated with the country's political echelon.

 

The Torah warns a Jewish king must not lift "his heart be not lifted up above his brethren" (Deut. 17:20.) This verse teaches us that every power broker can fall into the trap of using his power to close himself of to those in his rule.

 

This, then, is the national confession those in power must do. And without fixing this issue - we are planting the seeds for our own, internal Yom Kippur War.

 

There is much more to say, but space is limited. This Yom Kippur must be a day of atonement for all of us, a time to stand before God and ask Him to open up to us, at this special time of Divine providence.

 

Rabbi Yuval Sherlo is the Rosh Yeshiva of the Petah Tikva hesder yeshiva
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