Great expectations…writes Michael Kuttner

September 11, 2015 by Michael Kuttner
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Another year in the Jewish calendar is ending and once again it is time for personal and communal stocktaking, introspection and celebration.

Michael Kuttner

Michael Kuttner

This is the time when politicians, communal leaders and religious leaders bombard us with messages, sermons and platitudes, many of them geared towards “great expectations” which will not eventuate.

Rabbis at least have a good excuse. They will have large captive audiences and naturally it is an ideal opportunity to deliver spiritual messages appropriate to the occasion which will either rouse their congregants to renewed and more faithful fervor or alternatively turn them off completely. The trick is what topics to choose. As Israel is so central to our history and liturgy, especially at this season, it seems logical to include pertinent reference to it in sermons and messages.

Amazing as it may seem, it transpires for that some religious leaders in the USA and who knows elsewhere as well, the topic has become too toxic to mention. Some lay leaders are so fearful of offending those with different political opinions that they have suggested that the topic of Israel be avoided altogether. It is a depressing commentary on the state of some communities if this in fact becomes widespread. So far I suspect it is something limited to isolated fringe groups but the fact that it has surfaced at all is a sign of the assimilationist trends affecting certain sectors.

Greeting cards which used to be hot business at this time of the year have almost disappeared to be replaced by e-cards, emails, twitters, tweets and a multitude of other instant communications such as Skype. Politicians have taken advantage of these mass media tools to bombard us with messages. Basically there is nothing wrong with this except that many times the sentiments are so banal and patronizing that it would have been better not to have had them at all.

Every person prays and hopes for good health. This is natural because without the benefits of physical and indeed spiritual health we cannot live productive and satisfying lives. We pray also for a year of prosperity not that we should become rich but that we should be able to sustain ourselves and our families in dignity. The third thing we hope for is of course peace in our lives. Peace amongst family members and in our communities is an essential requisite for personal and communal health. It’s when politicians and others launch into fantasy visions of peace in the world that I start to switch off. Don’t get the wrong idea. Of course I am not opposed to world peace. After all we pray for it three times a day. You would have to be loony not to want to see a world in which truth, justice and tolerance prevails. Realistically it will not be achieved until the coming of the messianic age. Meantime I maintain we must keep a sense of proportion and not embark on flights of fancy which often prevail.

Let’s be realistic. Every year the same pontifications about peace abound and these get recycled ad nauseum. This is what I call the mirage of great expectations which have no chance whatsoever of coming about. Take a stocktaking of the last twelve months and then decide whether we are or are likely to be better off in the coming year.

Is the world a safer place?

Is the Middle East a safer place?

Have human rights improved?

Have terror groups been defeated or empowered?

Have Iran’s nuclear ambitions and missile threats been neutered?

Has Iran’s ability to fund terror groups dedicated to Israel’s destruction been thwarted or enhanced?

Why are there still Arab refugees living miserable lives in Arab countries?

Why are their numbers multiplying?

Has Israel/Jew hatred & deligitimization diminished or been eliminated?

Has the European Union solved all its problems?

Are the Jews of France, Venezuela and the Ukraine likely to be better off 12 months hence?

Has the United Nations successfully tackled the Syrian, Iraqi, Yemeni and other humanitarian problems?

Is the world still obsessing on a daily basis with Israel?

Are our misnamed peace partners any closer to accepting the legitimacy of a Jewish State?

Why is hate education and jihad glorification still a daily part of the Palestinian Authority agenda?

Realistically any notion that the coming year is going to usher in an era of peace is pie in the sky thinking and it would be better to concentrate on the attainable.

In that regard a brief summary of what we have achieved and hope to achieve in the coming year in Israel is more useful and productive.

One of the most exciting developments has been the coming on line of gas from our new fields and the preparations for future usage. Typical political dysfunctional behavior has meant delays but the benefits can already be felt. Consumers (domestic and commercial) will see a reduction of electricity tariffs from the New Year and that can only be good for the cost of living.

The economy remains strong which means that more money can be directed towards health, welfare and education. Work is progressing on railway expansion with the new high speed train from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, via the airport, scheduled to commence on 1 January 2018. New lines are being prepared for the Jerusalem light rail and finally infrastructure work on Tel Aviv’s new underground rail system has commenced. While other countries dither and debate on how to solve mass transport problems, Israel gets on with the job.

Aliyah (immigration) to Israel reached a 10 year high as turmoil envelopes the Ukraine and other countries and Europe becomes less hospitable to Jews.

An under reported achievement in the past year has been the accelerating participation in the work force of Chareidim (ultra Orthodox Jews) who in increasing numbers are attending institutes of higher learning and with qualifications earned then finding employment in many fields. Also ignored by the media is the increasing number enlisting in the IDF. How many know that this year saw the recruitment of a Chareidi woman by El Al for training as a pilot? This trend will accelerate in the coming year and has enormous potential for positive intercommunal interactions in the future.

Of course not everything is perfect in the Promised Land and just as in other countries there are challenges ahead. Some of these include reducing the gaps between the wealthy and those who struggle to make ends meet, eliminating inequalities and increasing remuneration, controlling the cost of housing in particular and living in general, enabling more competition in various sectors and reducing taxes. In addition serious steps must be taken to modernize the religious establishment so that it can more successfully meet the urgent needs of a diverse society. All this can only be achieved if there is a concerted effort on the part of our elected representatives. That means tackling the current dysfunctional state of the political system and ensuring stable governability and the widest freedom of expression at the same time. A tall challenge indeed.

Finally of course we need to ensure our security. Given the turmoil, hate and barbarity rampaging all around us it would be foolhardy in the extreme to rely on pieces of worthless paper. We must continue to strive for peace but be very mindful of reality. That means recognizing current and future dangers and a realization that the coming year will not bring the desired peace we all yearn for.

All that remains is to wish everyone a healthy year ahead, a year filled with joyous occasions and personal fulfillment.

Michael Kuttner is a Jewish New Zealander who for many years was actively involved with various communal organisations connected to Judaism and Israel. He now lives in Israel where he is J-Wire’s correspondent.   

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