Annual accounting…writes Michael Kuttner

September 7, 2018 by Michael Kuttner
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Well run businesses and enterprises undertake annual stocktaking in order to assess past performances, current achievements and future prospects.

Michael Kuttner

In the Jewish religious calendar the period from the week before Rosh Hashanah until at least Yom Kippur is a time when Jews are encouraged to engage in similar personal introspection, communal accounting and planning for the coming year.

This demands total honesty in order to recognize past failings, current short comings and a realistic agenda for the new year ahead. Instead of denying unpleasant and self evident truths we are instead encouraged to face facts. Only by doing that can we expect to overcome looming challenges. Sweeping inconvenient situations under the carpet in the hope that they will somehow go away should not be part of this annual ritual.

Likewise, pretending that all is b’seder (ok) and that life can continue without any problems is a false premise.

In the spirit of this month it is therefore appropriate to review the past year, assess where we are at the moment and hazard a guess at what may lie ahead for the worldwide Jewish Community.

As I predicted at this time last year those seeking Israel’s demise are still at it and Jewish communities worldwide are facing a rising tide of hate often hidden as anti Zionism. The result, amazingly, is that Israel is stronger than ever. Despite challenges which would sink other countries we are forging ahead on a multitude of fronts.

Looking back twelve months we can see that the situation for Jews in many countries has become dire and fraught with uncertain dangers. One has to wonder why, despite millions spent on Holocaust education and museums in various countries, the poisonous virus keeps infecting increasingly large swathes of humanity. As memories dim (except Jewish ones) the battle to remind the world of what unrestrained hate can trigger becomes much more difficult.

The current situation can therefore be summed up as precarious in most parts of the Diaspora and challenging in Israel.

What can we expect in the year ahead?

Crunch time is rapidly approaching for many. Deciding whether to stay in countries that are economic basket cases or where living openly as Jews is becoming increasingly dangerous should be high on the list. In places where wearing a kippah or displaying a mezuzah attracts violence the ominous signs are clear yet far too many still prevaricate. The prognosis for Jews in South America, most of Europe (east and west), Scandinavia and South Africa is bleak. How many more millions must be poured into sustaining Jewish life in places where the long term prospects are not positive?

The prospect of a declared anti Zionist becoming Prime Minister will present British Jews with a challenge not faced since the days of Mosley and Bevin. If Corbyn is forced out guess who will be blamed? If he stays just imagine the wave of anti Israel venom unleashed.

American Jews face a double threat. On the one hand rising hate from various quarters and on the other a tsunami of self inflicted assimilation and detachment from any meaningful connection to Israel and organized Jewish life. The cost of Jewish day school education not only in the USA but also UK and Australia is a serious problem. Without an intensive and rounded exposure to Judaism, its traditions, customs, beliefs and history the future is bleak.

Where does all this leave Israel, the ancestral homeland of the Jewish People?

It presents us with a unique task. Whether it is the urgent ingathering of our dispersed nation, sending shlichim to communities struggling to provide the basics for survival or defending Jewish rights and lives, the need is growing. In order to prepare for the year ahead we also have to identify where we have failed and what can be done to improve matters.

Our ossified religious establishment has to be revamped and divorced from the political machinations now bringing it into disrepute. We urgently need Rabbinic leadership which is attuned to the requirements of a modern State and not mired in the shtetls of Europe. The coming year demands realistic solutions for conversions, agunot, competitive kashrut authorities and marriage arrangements. If the Chief Rabbinate cannot be modernized to tackle pressing problems it should be abolished and replaced.

As various ethnic groups within the Jewish fabric of society mix and marry we will see future generations creating new and exciting traditions. Economic disparities must be tackled so that the gulf between the haves and the have nots is narrowed. Competition must be increased in many fields so that the cost of living is reduced and workers have more money at their disposal. The cost of housing has to be reduced so that more families can afford to buy and rent. Infrastructure work on roads and railways, already impressive, needs to be increased. Our overburdened health system, although world class and providing comprehensive coverage for all citizens requires additional funding so that an increasing population has access to more hospital beds, doctors and nurses.

The coming year will undoubtedly witness yet more amazing innovations and discoveries in a variety of areas and Israel will once again stun the world. We will no doubt also be among the first to send aid, succor and humanitarian assistance to places of disaster and distress anywhere in the world.

It is almost certain that elections will be held next year so we can look forward to an extended period of political hot air and the usual litany of promises, all ready to be broken at the earliest opportunity.

Israel’s Arab minority will have to decide whether they prefer the benefits of living in a State which respects human rights or would rather throw in their lot with those who ferment terror. Having a dollar each way is no longer feasible.

The only subject I have not mentioned is peace. Unfortunately this remains as distant as ever because of a continuing refusal to accept a valid Jewish presence, sponsorship of terror and a refusal by the UN to face up to the ugly reality it continuously endorses.

A recent news item explains why real peace is likely to remain an illusion: the Fatah movement headed by Mahmoud Abbas, who also serves as chairman of the Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organization, stressedthat there will no solution to the conflict or peace if Jerusalem is not recognized as the capital of the State of “Palestine”even if that means the conflict continues forever. 

Thereforethe coming year will once again see Israel facing more of the same delegitimizing efforts.

The Jewish People have seen off mightier empires than the current crop of corrupt deniers. Three powerful tools have helped us to triumph. These are a deep faith in our destiny, a will to succeed and a wicked sense of humor despite adversity. In this vein what better way to face a new year than by having a good laugh?

One of the most successful British TV series, co-written by a Jewish scriptwriter was “Yes Prime Minister.” Here is a short clip which demonstrates what in actual fact goes on behind the scenes:


May the New Year be a healthy one and may it bring us nearer to the day when truth and justice finally prevails.

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 and is J-Wire’s correspondent in the region.

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