By Josh Yudkin
While the Jewish world is reeling from the almost deafening debate about what Zionism means, its distilled essence is twofold: building a safe and thriving Jewish home and securing peace both within and around our home. Difficult discussion, disagreement and dynamics develop due to the diverse and disputed approaches to achieving this dream.
In my lifetime, perhaps the most notable threat to this dream took place Nov. 4, 1995, when then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated leading a peace rally outside Tel Aviv City Hall. Minutes after his assassination, the bloodstained words from Shir haShalom were found in his shirt pocket. The final stanza opens with, “Don’t say the day [of peace] will come, bring on that day.”
As Israel welcomes in a new government, many wonder what to expect. Optimists have said the “Change” coalition will indeed create significant change, and pessimists have said the coalition will not last the full term and passing a budget may be their greatest achievement. Specifically, there is concern how a coalition comprising parties with opposing views on issues can reach resolution.
Small actions lead to profound change — lasting change is often incremental, barely perceptible at first. It begins by modeling the behaviors and leadership you hope others will follow. When we look at both the ministers and Knesset members, they are differently abled, have diverse sexual orientations and ethnicities and are dynamic leaders with widespread ideologies at the helm. The representation is a celebration of and model for building a more inclusive community. It is a step away from divisive diction and a step toward decent dialogue.
Profound change happens through small victories. The same time that the biggest pride flag in the Middle East was unveiled at the entrance to Beer Sheva as a symbol to show “young men and women living in the periphery that they should know they are not alone,” according to the project spokesman, vandals daubed “death to the gays” on an entry sign to Yehud, merely 20 minutes from Tel Aviv, on a rainbow-colored heart. During talks to form the new coalition, promises were made to certain members that the issue of the LGBTQ+ community would not be brought up. Nonetheless, to help catalyze building a more inclusive and equitable society and advocating for his own community, Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz is following in the steps of his predecessor Yael German in his plans to remove barriers for members of the LGBTQ+ community to donate blood. To move forward, we need to know where we are and from where we have come.
Profound change is sustained with small signals and stories. To date, this new government’s narrative is one that is greater than an individual or a select group of individuals. It is a narrative of sacrifice, where the leader who was given the mandate to form a coalition is not leading the coalition from the front. The complexity of the eight-party coalition reflects the diverse and rich fabric of Israeli society. It is an opportunity for the leadership to model how, through intentionally embracing discomfort and exhibiting decent dialogue, Israel comes out stronger.
There has been significant speculation about whether this new government will fold immediately or achieve unprecedented success. Political pundits and reporters have articulated myriad possibilities across the board, so, statistically, one of them is correct. Rather than accepting a narrative of speculation, we can build a narrative based in decent dialogue and action. We can follow the example to always lead, even if we are not center stage. We can continue the celebration and active inclusion of all members of our community. We can continue the short-term pursuit of sacrifice and discomfort to achieve lasting harmony and peace.
In fact, simply by its very formation, this government succeeded in showing both Israel and the world that those with different agendas, worldviews and aspirations can work together to build a better future for us all. This hope is democracy’s gift to the world. Whether such gifts are squandered is often more about mundane realpolitik rather than ideological or cultural disagreements.
We live in hope. Stable and sustained change begins with small actions. Truly transformative change is not immediate. The seeds have been sown. Now it is our turn to nourish and maintain a habitable environment so we can see what may blossom. As the early pioneers taught us, a true Land of Milk and Honey can only be realized through the twin tenets of tolerance and toil. To paraphrase a popular Israeli adage “Ein lanu eretz aheret,” “We have no other land.” We also have no other way forward.
Joshua Yudkin currently serves as an executive committee member of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas’ Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) and is a co-founder of JUST Conversations. He is an epidemiologist by training who was recently awarded a Fulbright research grant and works at the intersection of community building and public health.