I observed all the happenings beneath the sun, and I found that all is futile and pursuit of wind: A twisted thing that cannot be repaired, a deficiency that cannot be made good.
The other night I attended an evening in honor of Avraham Infeld, one of the leading lights of informal Jewish education for the past generation. Avraham has founded and led a number of significant initiatives and institutions, and raised up a generation of disciples. And he is both a passionate educator and a great raconteur, so it's always a treat to hear him speak. Between the jokes and stories, he made clear his basic belief, which resonates strongly with me: the point of Zionism is not a refuge, nor another ethnic nation state, buttikkun olam, the repair of the world. The Jewish state must be the demonstration site for the application of Jewish values to the real world, for how we apply Torah when we finally have power. We don't hear that sermon too often around here these days, and it was encouraging and refreshing to hear it from Avraham.
As it happens, the next day our education center provided a day-long field seminar for gap-year kids from the UK, and the route assigned to my bus was "Tikkun Olam." After an opening study session, of some texts that define tikkun olam, we made three stops:
Eshbal, a kibbutz founded 13 years ago by graduates of the "Hanoar Ha'oved Ve-halomed" youth movement (Habonim-Dror in the US). Their vision was to create a kibbutz whose only industry would be education. And none of them had a BA. It wasn't easy (and often, neither were they) - but today they run a successful boarding school for the hardest core dropouts, mostly Ethiopian youth; and they coordinate and run youth programming for communities around the region. And thirteen years later they still speak with the same "naïve" idealism that they started with. They have succeeded in raising money and winning over the authorities, and today their second-hand mobile homes have given way to a lovely campus.
Kishorit, a community for adults with special needs, that operates as a quasi-kibbutz (all of the members work in the communal businesses, but most of the income is from the government and fundraising). On a magnificent, green campus in the mountains of the upper Galilee, we visited the breeding kennel, the bakery, the toy factory, and the goat farm; there are also a winery, stables, and vegetable gardens.
The Absorption Center for Ethiopian immigrants in Safed. We heard from a representative of the Jewish Agency about the difficulties faced by immigrants from rural Ethiopia in making the transition to the economy and culture of modern Israel. Then we joined about 50 kindergartners, sitting around tables with them to make and decorate Chanukah menorahs under the supervision of a kindergarten teacher who did not lose her cool under the most trying conditions. By the time we went upstairs for candle lighting, many of the kids were on the shoulders or in the arms of the British teens.
We are working with a school in the Diaspora on their history curriculum; the teachers recently sent me a proposed outline for an Israel unit. Thirteen of the 19 lessons were on wars, terrorism, and negotiations. That left six for life, culture, internal issues, etc. - of which one was, of course devoted to high-tech industry. Jews as victims. Jews as strong. Jews as smart. Not surprising, but sad that that seems to be what's important about Israel to many Diaspora Jews. Over here, we have more important things to worry about.