Judoka Arik Ze'evi
Photo: AFP

Worth of a nation

Number of medals we win far less important than the kind of society we are

“No medal for Arik,” screamed the headlines after judoka Arik Ze’evi was defeated in the Beijing Olympics. No medal. None. Yet we so much wanted him to bring home a medal. We counted on this medal so much. A round, shiny medal. Preferably one made of gold, which would see our national anthem played publicly and enable all of us to shed an emotional tear and hold our heads up high with Jewish-Israeli pride that we seem to have forgotten too quickly.


We are so addicted to this sweet sensation. We so much long for a new victory in some global competition, a Nobel Prize for example, first place in the Eurovision song contest, the Oscars, Miss Universe, World Cup Soccer, or whatever. It really doesn’t matter to us, as long as we win something.


We told ourselves that Arik is a real and logical chance for a new Israeli gold medal, and a little global dignity. Yet even if he doesn’t get the gold, we said, we’ll make do with another silver or bronze medal. We won’t sneer at it, as long as it’s some kind of new round piece of metal from an official body that helps us prove to the world that we’re still worth something.


But make no mistake about it, we know we’re worth something. We know it very well. There, Gal Fridman won the gold in the previous Olympics, Prof. Aumann won a Nobel Prize recently, and Shai Agnon also won one once upon a time. Photographer Oded Balilty shot a photo that won the Pulitzer, we’re a high-tech superpower, and in 1967 we won, all by ourselves, battles that at one point seemed like a lost cause. And this is only a partial list.


We’re certainly worth something; we simply need the world to realize it too. Ever since we were established, in 1948, we constantly struggle to prove it to the world. We struggle to distinguish ourselves and aspire to be the best. We beg for some recognition. Because if the world doesn’t know how good we are, how exactly will we be sure that we’re worth something? Particularly now that our collective national ego in advanced stages of atrophy in the wake of the Second Lebanon War.


No victory makes us more important

It truly scares us to think that one morning we’ll wake up and no longer be that way. Yet I’m hoping that one morning we’ll wake up and no longer feel the need to be that way; that we’ll be liberated from this silly ego trip, the restless race to the top; that we’ll realize that no victory makes us more important and no loss makes us inferior; that victories won’t confuse us, failures won’t scare us, and that the wrestling ability of a nice Israeli guy called Arik has nothing to do with our real worth.


As long as we keep measuring ourselves by Tzipi Livni’s spot on the Time’s list of most influential people, or by a victory in one contest or another, and allow it to dictate our national mood, we’ll be facing a serious problem.


If you think I’m exaggerating, try to recall the national mourning around here after we failed to advance to the European soccer championship, or follow the childish quest for respect pitting Israel against Hizbullah in relation to the unanswered question “who won the war?”, even though it’s irrelevant to anything and won’t bring anyone back to life; the only thing it may do is perhaps enable us to put yet another crooked checkmark on our list of doubtful victories.


The time has come to stop proving to the world what we’re worth, and start proving it to ourselves. The real worth of a nation is not measured by the ability of some composer to produce Eurovision hits, by the aesthetical supremacy of our latest beauty queen over her Indian counterpart, or by the scoring talent of our soccer stars. Those are all nice things, but we shouldn’t forget they’re only a game.


The real worth of a nation is measured by the quality of its people, its moral standards, and its desire to build a more just and enlightened society; it’s measured not by its desire to outdo others, but rather, by its desire to outdo itself.


A last-minute soccer defeat is not a pleasant thing, but it’s not a “humiliation” (even though some commentators may refer to it as such.) Yet high crime levels, social apathy, Israelis who steal faucets at Turkish hotels, and our elected officials’ immoral conduct – those are the truly humiliating things.


The bad news is that we seem to be forgetting this lately. The good news is that we don’t need to defeat anyone to change it; we only need to triumph over ourselves. And only then, perhaps, we shall again be a “light onto the nations.”


פרסום ראשון: 08.17.08, 16:11
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