My Yom Kippur Resolution: I Need to Be a Better Israeli

Listening to the prime minister speak this week, I realized that the best Israeli I can be, is exactly the one he doesn't want. This gives me hope.

Bradley Burston
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Netanyahu in the Likud election headquarters after the release of the exit polls, March 18, 2015. Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Bradley Burston

This year on the High Holidays, I find that I have a whole new attitude about Israel. I have one person to thank for this: Benjamin Netanyahu. 

A few days before Rosh Hashanah, he set an example by breaking with custom. Without advance warning, he cancelled the long-standing tradition of Israeli prime ministers answering to their public in a series of probing New Year interviews with the major news media.

For Haaretz's guide to Yom Kippur, click here.

Instead, Mr. Netanyahu posted a video clip on his Facebook page, a brisk, lighthearted fireside chat of self-congratulation, at the end of which he all but declared his intention to serve as Israel's prime minister for at least another 10 years.

It was at that moment that I got it. Benjamin Netanyahu is not the problem. He's the exact same guy that he ever was. True, under Netanyahu, Israel is a flat-out worse place than it ever was. But he's not the problem.

The problem is us. The problem is me. 

The problem is that I need to be a better Israeli.

And the problem with that, is the difficulty believing, in this day and age, that things can ever be any different here. 

But something in Bibi's Facebook post turned me around. I realized, as I listened to him, that it took 48 years of painstaking, incremental, dogged, focused toil to make things as bad as they are now. 

It's taken 48 years to convince all of us that our reality – my people enjoying full democratic rights, while millions of other people have none – is permanent, immutable, sustainable. 

The problem is that somewhere inside, I've accepted that. I've even, without giving it conscious thought, surrendered to the premise that Netanyahu will be in charge forever. 

But attitudes like that are exactly what this season is for. It is the time of tshuva, of turning entirely around and looking deeper, acknowledging that you've - I've - done wrong. Tshuva also means setting out to fix what's stuck, what's bent, what's broken. In me. In this place. 

This year, for me, tshuva means being a better Israeli. It means recognizing that tiny increments of change are what brought us to this ditch, and believing that increments of change can somehow bring us to where we ought to be.

Here's where I think I have to start:

1. Hate less. Fume less. Do good.

That is, do actual good. I have to fight the sense that the needs here - for Jews, Arabs and others - are so crushingly overwhelming that nothing I can actually do matters. 

I have to fight the sense that an individual's acts are so slight in comparison to society's needs, that there's no point in any of it.  I have to recognize that there are great people doing great things here, working to help and heal and bridge the differences of the individuals of our warring sides. I need to do much more to support them, to join them, to amplify their work.

If I am to be a better Israeli, I need to see things for what they truly are. I need to accept that, although brutality and bereavement and injustice and permanently crippling violence are often instantaneous here, the pace of real change can be glacial. And, yes, it can be earth-shaking and positive.

It turns out that there's no limit to the directions being a better Israeli might take. A friend of mine is matching donations to the New Israel Fund, which supports organizations fighting the good fight in a staggering number of ways.

Other friends have committed to studying and speaking Arabic, a huge first step toward breaking down the walls dividing people here. Still others are building ties between Negev Bedouin and Jews, working to help undo the erosion of the rights of Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and appealing to the government to relate to Gaza by exploring diplomatic options before military ones.

Let's say Netanyahu's right. Let's say that he, or the equivalent - or someone even worse - will be prime minister of Israel until the year 2025, or until their policies bring Israel to an end, whichever comes first. 

Listening carefully again to the prime minister speak this week, I realized that the best Israeli I can be, is exactly the one he doesn't want. This gives me hope.

The fact is that Netanyahu, or any equivalents going forward, already have what they want. Any change at this point, will only make it worse for them. 

And that's exactly the reason that it's still worth a try. 

2. I can love this land better. 

I can take a strong and unequivocal stand against all terrorist violence, regardless of whether the victims are Arabs or Jews, and regardless of the motivations and justifications and grievances and goals of the terrorists, whether Arabs or Jews. 

I need to find ways to help the victims of both sides, and hamper and undermine the extremists of both sides.. 

And I need to better love the land itself.

I need, for example, to use less water, and campaign to have more of our water made available to Palestinians, in Gaza as well as the West Bank. I can support making public transportation more available and more affordable to all who live here. 

I can support environmentalists who are preserving natural habitats, working on sustainable energy projects, and exposing illegal waste dumping and wrongful appropriation of nature reserves.

I can fight against expulsions of Bedouins, West Bank and East Jerusalem Palestinians, and others who are striving against great odds just to work and live on their own land. 

3. I can love Judaism better

I can defy rabbis who are taxpayer-funded crooks, misogynists, callous clerks, and inciters toward extremism. 

I can support the efforts of local Jewish communities and synagogues striving for equality, inclusiveness, and co-existence.

I can work for prophetic values, toward a reality in which all of the Muslims and the Christians and the Druze of the Holy Land enjoy the same rights as my people do. 

4. Before all else, I can love my family better. 

At this point in Israel, the family is the only entity keeping this country from completely falling apart.

I am blessed with mine. I owe them much more. 

I need to listen more. I need to judge less. I need to be honest no matter what, and understanding, no matter what.

I need to close down these electronics screens and be much more open to my loved ones. I need to learn from my loved ones, to grow in their inspiration. I am awed and made new by what they have to teach me. 

In fact, I'm going to close this screen right now. 

May all of us, all of us, be sealed for a truly good year in the Book of Life.