In honor of Israel’s 61st birthday this week, here are two interesting lectures about the Jewish state.
First, historian and veteran peacenik Tom Segev gives a sobering assessment of prospects for peace in Understanding The Israelis (website). In this University of Delaware talk, Segev comments sadly on the younger generation of Israelis, including his own son, who “no longer believe in peace.” He says that these young people are jaded and cynical after growing up amidst the terrorism of the second intifada.
What’s more, Segev laments, large portions of the electorate, disillusioned by political corruption scandals, “no longer believe in democracy.” Still, Segev says he continues to believe in the two-state solution and hopes that the Obama administration will help Israelis and Palestinians to achieve peace.
A counterpoint is this lecture,Israel’s new ‘High Holidays’, by Rabbi Donniel Hartman at Jerusalem’s Shalom Hartman Institute. Hartman describes the twin Israeli holidays of Holocaust Remembrance Day, which memorializes the 6 million Jews killed by the Nazis during World War II, and Memorial Day, which remembers Israelis killed in the country’s many military conflicts and how these holidays have become the “new High Holidays” of Israel.
He describes how, in the early years of the state, these two holidays were teaching moments for Israel’s labor movement ideology that hoped to create a “new Jew,” exemplified by the strong, tanned kibbutznik who would be the antithesis of the weak, pale diaspora Jew who went like “a lamb to the slaughter.”
In more recent years the holidays illustrate a different narrative which sees Israel as the guardian of Jewish survival, the guarantor that the Holocaust can never again happen. It is in support of this narrative that 25% of Israeli high school students visit the Polish death camps and thousand of Jews from all over the world participate in the annual March of the Living.
Hartman criticizes this paradigm, insisting that Israel needs to stand for more than just the survival of the Jewish people. Instead he calls for a new paradigm, reminiscent of the traditional Jewish morning practice of donating to charity to honor the deceased. Israelis, he says, should strive to honor the memories of the fallen by building a just society.
(Technical note: to download the Hartman video for later viewing, right click on the video window and then click “save link as” in Firefox, or “save target as” in Internet Explorer. To convert the video to an audio-only MP3 file, see How to download streaming audio and video/ Part 1.)