The zeitgeist in Israel, especially as reflected in the media and in the words of some elected officials, is the spirit of dispute and contention. Instead of words of encouragement and vision, they are showering us with incitement. They don’t stop even in days of the pandemic, the economic crisis and the security challenges.
The language and acts of those who have the authority and duty to unite the people, to take it from darkness to light and to heal the wounds caused by the pandemic, the economic crisis and society, is the language of dissent, of deepening the rifts, a rhetoric that kindles a fire of hatred.
Regrettably, the twilight of political leadership hasn’t brought forth – as it often does in times of national disasters – a spiritual leadership that infuses a different spirit in the people; a spirit of reconciliation, an atmosphere of mutual assistance and encouragement. Neither among intellectuals or religious figures.
The language of the leading figures in both those categories, those known to us as leading secular intellectuals and as rabbis who are opinion makers and role models in their communities, are leading the edges, the zealotry, the separation, the despair. They don’t know how to tend to their people’s and country’s wounds. Even in this difficult time, they have no words of encouragement and comfort. The language of consolation is alien to them.
On Tuesday MK Tehila Friedman-Nachalon (Kahol Lavan) made her debut speech in the Knesset. It was a different speech, in content, language and message. It was a speech the intellectuals should have given and whose content they should have promoted. It was a speech that ought to have been made (and followed) by the government and opposition leaders. They should have remembered that “where there is no vision the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18).
It was a speech reminiscent of the days when the spiritual and political leadership – and the entire people – knew to cherish the miracle of building the state, of the gathering of exiles. The days when the leaders knew they had to listen to each other and respect each other’s opinion, and to remember the lessons of history.
Anyone who missed it, can read or hear it on the social media. Many circles, on the entire ideological spectrum, received it with excitement. Most of the responses cited it as a genuine expression of the yearning of large parts of the public to mend the fractures, to return to sanity and to change the rhetoric that is used in contentious matters.
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Immediately after the speech was over in the Knesset, enthusiastic responses filled the social media, the likes of which – following a speech in Knesset or elsewhere – even the veterans of the parliament and those outside it cannot remember.
Who is this amazing woman, a kibbutz movement veteran asked, where did she grow up, why haven’t we heard about her until now? The Ecological Greenhouse forum, an educational institution in Kibbutz Ein Shemer, invited her for a discussion. So did other organizations. Yedioth Ahronoth, whose success stems from its understanding of the collective Israeli soul, printed the speech on a two-page spread it its Wednesday edition.
For many, Friedman’s words were like fresh water to a thirsty wanderer lost in the desert. In contrast, those whose main public presence consists of slinging mud and spreading venom, responded to the speech with cynicism and sulkiness.
Has a leader emerged here, with a single speech? Time will tell (as will the politicians’ and media’s encouragement). Friedman has certainly proved her capability to connect exalted words to necessary deeds.