Blind Optimism is Alive and Well in Israel

I just came from a lecture by Amos Asa-El - author of the column titled "Middle Israel" in the Jerusalem Post - which was given at the Hartman Institute. As you've seen in my recent postings, we've heard some depressing news about the state of Israeli society and its mindset after the recent war in Gaza. Most of us rabbis in the program feel very frustrated and upset about the opinions we've heard from the Hartmans.
Tonight however was different. Mr. Asa-El presented one of the most optimistic and positive lectures about Israel that I've heard in years. It was a glowing review of what Israel can claim for fame in its brief 60 year history. Some people today, he said, may point to military or diplomatic accomplishments - great victories against overwhelming odds, establishment of the State in the UN, and recent peace with Egypt and Jordan - but Mr. Asa-El pointed to other spheres.
It is remarkable how Israel has been able to establish a growing and leading economy in such a small space, surrounded by enemies, and with no natural resources. The Bank of Israel is one of the most respected of such banks around the world and as a post-colonial country (it was under British occupation from 1917-1948) it is the most successful.
It is also nearly miraculous that Hebrew is as pervasive and prominent as it is today. Everyone in Israel - all 7.2 million (including the Arab citizens) speak Hebrew today when 100 years ago it was only alive in a dictionary and among some Jewish educated elite. The fact that there is a strong body of literature and theater today and that the UN reports that every month another world language dies, is truly a great achievement for the Hebrew language.
Finally, Mr. Asa-El pointed out how relatively quickly Israel has been able to integrate Jews of a variety of ethnic backgrounds. Israel was established by European Jews and within 5 years after 1948, nearly half of its population had emigrated from North African and Middle Eastern countries. Even though it has taken 40 years, some of the wealthiest and financially influential Israelis are non-European.
As I listened to this presentation I couldn't help at first to be glad to hear such a rave review. It felt good in light of recent news here. It also fits into the model of news I was used to hearing growing up. As a proud Zionist and a child of Zionists and as a student in Zionist Jewish Day Schools, I only heard positive things about Israel. Negative news about Israeli society or policy was always swept under the rug.
And that is the issue with tonight's lecture. People asked questions about obvious things that weren't mentioned, e.g. the absorption of Ethiopian Jews, the status of non-Orthodox Jews, poverty, etc. And Mr. Asa-El kept pointing out only the positive aspects of these things especially in light of Israel's brief history as a State.
Unfortunately that doesn't do it for me anymore. I remain a strong Zionist and that Zionism forces me to criticize Israel for Israel's sake. My Zionist dream encourages me to want to see Israel become the great moral and ethical society it can be. When mistakes are made we should make our voices heard so that changes can take place. And when Israel does right, we should support her loud and clear. The blind optimism feels good for a minute, but after that you realize how much you don't see. Let's hope we keep our eyes wide open so that Israel can be completely proud of its accomplishments for many years to come.