We have heard, time and time again, that the “Arab Spring” is a concrete result of smart phone technology. The claim is (if a primitive user like myself understands correctly) that the ability to be connected at all times from all sites enables massive protest movements that bring down dictatorship regimes. Perhaps this is correct. The science of “social media” has yet to be explored.
However, we all know by now that what is going on in the Middle East is an abuse of the concept called the “popular revolution” and an insult to the term “democratic process.” The results so far are only aggressive rulers, anarchy, death, bloodshed, civil wars, and Islamic fundamentalism. I am afraid that Mr. Steve Jobs would find it hard to rest in peace if he could observe the results of this “iPhone revolution” theory.
A question immediately comes to mind about Israel: are we totally immune, protected and secured against such processes? Can any of the revolutionary spirit and its results penetrate into our society? After all, we contain all of the required ingredients. We are located in one of the most explosive neighborhoods in the world. We have growing and disturbing social gaps. We are facing various severe internal disputes. We are not shy about criticizing our government and recently filled our city squares with massive numbers of protesters. We have fought a real war or two. We are fully equipped with extraordinary technology and smart devices. We are blessed with highly passionate young adults. So what is the key element that is preventing us from becoming yet another Middle Eastern country?
Some would say that it is democracy. We are the only democratic state in the Middle East. This is correct but too simplistic. Others would say that it is Judaism. We are the only Jewish state in the world. Correct, but too ambitious. I would like to suggest that what protects us the most is the historic connection between the two. This is the delicate combination between our democratic and Jewish nature.
In other words: The tiny symbolic hyphen of the term that makes us who we are: “a Jewish–democratic state.” This hyphen links us to the core values of rich Jewish tradition of many generations and at the same time to the basic universal values of modern democracy, freedom, and human rights. There should not be any conflict between the two and we need to do our best in order to keep them balanced in our identity as a state. We have to continuously work hard to secure the hyphen, the same way the hyphen secures us.
In the last few years we have witnessed a growing number of incidents in which some ultra-Orthodox groups abused this delicate balance between Judaism and democracy. Their fundamentalist interpretations brought them to threaten the basic foundations of our society and our country. Israeli and Diaspora Jews, from all streams and all backgrounds, need to come together to prevent them from coercing the public and abusing our precious tiny hyphen.
UJC MetroWest and the Jewish Federation of Central NJ recently hosted Rabbi Haim Amsalem in our communities. He is an ultra-Orthodox, haredi Jew, a member of the Knesset, and a fighter for civil society, religious tolerance, and human equality. Rabbi Amsalem and his movement, Am Shalem, (a complete nation) are living proof of the validity and importance of the hyphen.
During recent years we have also witnessed a lot of neglect and even disgust towards Judaism among Israelis. Many so-called “secular” youngsters tend to declare that they are mainly Israelis and that they don’t want anything meaningful to do with Judaism. They often believe that Judaism comes only in its ultra-Orthodox coercive version.
In response, for the past 15 years UJC MetroWest has been supporting a pluralistic Jewish curriculum in the public secular MetroWest high school in Ra’anana. Recently, we were able to take this program to a new phase: through a generous donation of an Orthodox family, the Flatow family from West Orange, the MetroWest high school will have a beit midrash (a Jewish study hall), a sifria yehudit (Jewish library), and a Torah scroll.
MetroWest and the Flatows are introducing an inclusive, accepting, and tolerant Judaism into the lives of the secular MWHS students. This is yet another answer to the need of strengthening the positive, fertile connection between our public sphere and our Jewish life. To highlight the hyphen that is the essence of our Jewish–democratic state.