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In Praise of Abnormality

May 9, 2009 | by

The current crisis faced by Israel is the result of a crumbling Jewish identity.

Many years ago, residents of Mishmar HaEmek held a meeting to discuss why the sons who left the kibbutz were not returning. The elderly Yaakov Hazan rejected the argument that the community's physical state needed improvement and summed his views with one sentence: "We failed in the effort to establish a secular Jewish society."

I recall Hazan when Israelis start asking what happened to us and how did we reach a situation where even minor war objectives are not achieved. The leadership failure by the statesmen who directed the army is a result of a public consciousness rupture we should be discussing.

The process of returning to Zion marks the reversing of history and cannot be driven by bio-economic processes we're familiar with. The only thing those who returned to Zion from all across the world shared was their Jewish identity. Jews who come to the Land of Israel through free choice did so and are still doing so in order to fulfill a mission that has no material advantage – the West offers much more.

Common mission

The mission was and remains the establishment of a state where the people of Israel can realize its identity by maintaining a modern society according to its values in the most complete way. Therefore, the basic conditions for the maintenances of the Zionist enterprise are the maintenance of Jewish identity.

This common mission allowed for solidarity and the ability to engage in a joint struggle to realize the mission despite the existence of deep ideological rivalries.

In his well-known book "Man's search for ultimate meaning," Viennese psychiatrist Victor Frankel addressed the question regarding the difference between those who collapsed after two or three weeks in Auschwitz and those who under the same conditions survived to see liberation. His answer can be summed up in one word: Mission.

Those who direct their lives according to a mission that is not part of the bio-economic needs find the mental strength to overcome terrible difficulties. Without the mission, every difficulty turns into an obstacle that cannot be overcome.

Normal life, normal country

Most of the first generation of secular Zionism departed from this world in the 1970s. It was a generation that enjoyed an exclusive privilege: The maintenance of a clear Jewish identity despite their secular way of life, which did not support this identity. However, in the process of generational change, this privilege was lost.

The experiment by generation A to provide generation B with an Israeli identity as a substitute, or alternately, a new Jewish identity, failed, and Israeli society lost the source of its strength in its existential struggle.

The Jewish and Zionist mission was replaced by a normal Israeli mission, which is the natural default option. The current prime minister expressed it well in his speech on election night: "Normal life in a country that is fun to live in."

And so, the serving elites of generation A, which followed the light of the Jewish-Zionist mission, were replaced by exploiting generation B elites, and the phenomena of degeneration emerged.

This created the unprecedented phenomenon of citizens seeking normalcy while contending with a blurred Jewish identity and being imprisoned in a giant ghetto of a Jewish state, which is abnormal by definition. This is an intolerable contradiction that gave rise to proposals for a solution premised on forcing normalcy upon the entire ghetto.

Jewish identity lost

Processes of normalization are present in every Jewish community in the world, only there they're referred to as "assimilation." A typical example is A.B. Yehoshua's book "In praise of normalcy," where he advances the idea of turning Israel into a "state of all its citizens": That is, the implementation of normalization and deletion of the Jewish mission.

The young generation, which lost the Jewish identity, finds it difficult to understand existential war driven by religious motives and makes excuses using the enemy's bio-economic aspirations, such as the need for territory. Therefore, the current war's shock – which cannot be explained through the myth of occupation – constitutes a dual shock for members of this generation.

The Zionist enterprise will always be a work-in-progress. Every generation must accept anew the Jewish-Israeli mission, just like any organism that relays the baton to the next generation. A generation that fails to accept this would not be able to deal with the reality that brought us to the crisis.

The self-reflection we require now entails first of all ending the war between Jewishness and Israelisness and the holding of a joint discussion by Zionist forces in order to agree on a Jewish Israeli mission.

We must recall the deep insight offered by Hazan, who saw the process from the outset. The State of Israel's failure in its 50s is the failure of the attempt to establish a secular-Jewish society.

Jewish practicality leaves room for the existence of pluralism, but it would only remain viable for generations to come if its center of gravity is a clear Jewish identity. This is the main issue that should stand at the center of the self-reflection process in the wake of the deep discomfiture faced by the public following the external and internal religious wars. As to the rest, go out and learn it.

This article originally appeared on Ynet.

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