In just one week, three vastly different articles – all with worrisome information – surprisingly intersected to create growing but disturbing trends in Israel which although journalistically recognized, need to be internalized and taken seriously in order to truly effect vitally needed change.
The first article, published on 1/19/20 in the Jerusalem Post entitled, “A Third of Israeli Youth Do Not Enlist in IDF,” outlined new data which stated that 32.9% do not enlist, with growing numbers, including women, who seek exemptions from military service. Although some of these exemptions are due to mental health reasons, it went on to say that “general recruitment figures for combat units have also seen a general decline over the past decade,” dropping from 65% in 2018 to 81% in 2011. Further, it is believed that these numbers are “not due to a sudden increase in mental illness, but rather to a decrease in motivation to serve in the army, leading youth to fake mental illness to avoid service.” (Ibid)
What could be responsible for this growing antithesis of patriotic motivation?
Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cordozo seems to allude to yet another sector of disenchantment strongly felt by the general Israeli public but more directed towards matters of faith and religion. In his 1/24/20 JPost article entitled, “Needed: Rabbis with Knives Between Their Teeth,” he recommends that any “predominantly secular government which will lead the country… must ask themselves some hard and uncomfortable questions.”
Here are some further excerpts: Rabbi Cordozo states, “It is time for the religious parties and our religious leaders to admit that for years they have played their cards wrong…religious parties have continually misread the minds and hearts of secular Israelis, turning them into antagonists…religious parties have caused long-lasting harm to the image of Judaism.” He continues by saying, “religious parties and rabbinical leaders should have made use of the most advanced, uplifting teachings of Judaism, which would have created unprecedented admiration for Judaism among the Israeli people. If anything should impress secular Israelis, it is Jewish values, genuine religious observance, integrity, impeccable examples and high ethical performance in private and communal life.” Cardozo laments that these religious parties and leaders are “not involved in any real soul searching.” He ends by saying that Judaism must be “liberated from religious and halachic [Jewish legal] stagnation caused by its mainstream rabbinical leadership. Only then will Israeli society extricate itself from its ongoing predicaments.”
Finally, the third article, entitled “Israel Falls Close to Redline In Corruption Index,” (JPost, 1/23/20) shows that “Israel has fallen close to the redline in a global corruption index, according to Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI) IN 2019, ranking 35 among 180 countries.” This represents a small improvement over 2016 when Israel was ranked 28 among other countries.
So how do these three articles intersect? There seems to be a clear uneasiness, first of all, in terms of how a growing number of young Israeli citizens view their country. Is she even worthy enough for them to fight and possibly die? What was once seen as an existential duty to defend the Jewish homeland has, on the part of some, has become an undesirable role to be avoided at all costs, to the point of feigning mental illness. While this surely is not the majority of Israeli youth, the growing numbers attest to a disturbing trend which appears to be gaining strength. It also points to something being very wrong with a new generation which, apparently, has forgotten the very heavy price paid for the birth of their nation just a short 70 years ago.
They, along with a large percentage of other Israelis who make up the majority secular population, have also rejected much of today’s expression of rabbinical Judaism which has failed to present an attractive, inspirational message of salvation, redemption and hope to a lost and dying world. There is no emphasis on a personal God who longs for an intimate relationship with His creation, a God who cares for them and who has made a way for their life to have meaning, purpose and wholeness. Perhaps, worst of all, today’s religious Jewish leaders have, in many cases, failed to live up to their own standards of holiness and whose personal lifestyle choices have brought about a cynicism and rejection of all things religious.
This brings us to the third article about Israel’s world standing in corruption. How can the world possibly view Israel as a “Light to the Nations,” when it is not ranked last on the list of corrupt countries? How can we, as a people, provoke anyone to jealousy – be they Jew or gentile, if we, ourselves fall so far from the mark of living a godly life?
It’s true that the prophet Ezekiel wrote about God returning His people to their land while they were yet in their sin: 36:24 – “For I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands and ring you into your own land. 25 Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols.”
The sequence of these verses clearly reveals that the people of Israel are returned to their land in a still “dirty” state. It is only once that they are in the land that God, Himself cleanses them and turns them into a “clean” and moral people who are then in a position to cause others to take notice and desire to emulate them.
We are not yet there, but we need to be – for the sake of ourselves and for the sake of others who are still unable to view a true picture of the God who has chosen Israel as the ones from whom the law would go forth from Zion and the Word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
It starts with us, our dealings with one another and our own need for soul searching to see how and if we are an impediment to the very faith we seek to promote. How closely are we living out the Fruits of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, longsuffering, patience, kindness, self-control? Are we even close to employing them with our own family? Honest self-assessment is the first step to getting there followed by asking for God’s help to daily live out His character.
We were created to inspire! So isn’t it time we began to live that way so that we may fulfill our spiritual destiny of truly being a Light to the Nations!