I do not know exactly when my inner emotional life first became coupled with our national situation. It certainly wasn’t as a child or teenager – when I was completely self-centered around my personal life experiences. Later, as a bleary-eyed young mother I had begun speaking about the “situation,” but with the kind of emotional detachment of someone who has too little time and is overloaded building home and career. But somehow and at some time it just happened: I saw the direct connection between what happens to us as a people, and what I was going through personally.
Still, it surprised me recently how I metaphorically fell apart when the government literally did.
There were reasons why the folding of the current government affected me. After two years of hard work to promote a meaningful Shmita year and raise ethics at a national level, winning the commitment of three ministers and a deputy minister and partnering with Knesset members of all parties – all of a sudden there was nothing, a vacuum.
But this reality did not break my spirit. My difficulty was with the political atmosphere but normal life continued in the social justice arena. When I set up the “Israeli Shmita Initiative” I planned this year as one of unity, of connecting people, of joint mobilization to highlight the good that we share. The reality of elections achieves pretty much the opposite of this, and the current election system is particularly harsh.
It took me a while to realize that elections affect us only at a superficial level, leaving intact the many choices each of us makes on an inner level every day. The values of Shmita reside within us, where they retain the potential to influence society for the better. And I had a tool – our Israeli Shmita Tent.
So what is this Israeli Shmita Tent? It is, as the name suggests, a huge tent with which we travel around the country, offering people a space for relaxation, eating fruit, swapping books (our ‘Take and Keep’ library), and a space for shared discussion about our social dreams. With our Tent we will go anywhere we are invited, and stay a few days, getting to know the place and its people, and discussing the possibilities of positive action arising from the values of Shmita.
The Tent’s journey began early in the year, but the election made us raise our game – really plowing the length and breadth of the country, reminding us how good it all is. Here are some of the stories I’ve collected along the way:
On the pilgrimage “Connections on the Road to Jerusalem”, I pitched my tent next to the Teva employees, who took part in the march as representatives of the business sector: a commercial company which chooses to invest in sending its employees on a two day march calling for unity in Israeli society. Definitely exciting.
At Festival Indie-Negev, which I went to for the local culture (not for corporate sponsorships), I came across an interesting choice made by one of the festival’s producers who made teshuva, but did not cancel the event (which takes place on Shabbat) but placed alongside it a ‘Jewish complex’ where people could pray, hear Kiddush and engage in spiritual activities. It was packed throughout the whole of Shabbat, and I got into deep conversations of inestimable value.
In Yeruham I met a community which chose not to give in to the stigma attaching to many a southern town. Cultural and intellectual life is vibrant, there is huge social entrepreneurship in evidence, and a variety of institutions combine learning and practice: these are the result of just some of the wonderful choices of the local people. If I had not settled in the Galilee, for sure I would pack my bags and move.
In Jerusalem we pitched our tent at the First Station complex – a commercial complex which is trying to reinvent itself as Jerusalem’s latter-day ‘forum.’ In seven sessions around seven themes we met many residents of the Holy City, and found creative ways to imbue the values of Shmita in their lives.
There were more: the ecological farm in Modi’in which completely recycles all its waste; the Zionist Youth Congress which continues to bring relevant meaning to Zionism today; the Emek Hefer march that brings people closer to nature; and many more.
So whether you are happy with the result of the Israeli elections or not, I hope that all of us remember that the real choices which matter are those we make every day – not just at election time, and that the values inherent in Shmita invite us to choose good!