For anybody truly concerned with the future of the State of Israel and the Jewish people it has become evident over the past 30 years that the major threat to our existence does not stem solely from the external enemy, however dangerous it may be, but from an ever growing polarization and lack of common narrative, values and vision for the future of the state, from within.
The immense success of Zionism, building the physical framework for the independence of the Jewish people, the revival of the Hebrew language, and the ingathering of Jews from all over the world, is being threatened by the total lack of common ground when it comes to the character of the State of Israel. As one of the most detrimental mistakes in the pre-state coalition building, a monopoly on “Judaism” in its broadest interpretation was given to the religious establishment and political parties. This monopoly included areas such as religious courts, family law, the laws involved in right of return, conversions, the interpretation of the Jewish character of the State of Israel and most fundamentally, Jewish education. This monopolization of Judaism has, to a great extent, over a mere two generations, led to a tragic division and polarization of Israeli society with dire consequences throughout the greater world Jewish community.
For those who believe in a Jewish future, the reality of this polarization needs to be dealt with urgently, while it still is in our hands to influence these developments. The only productive method I know of to deal with this is to create a serious comprehensive Jewish alternative. This alternative can only be created with a joint effort between the polarized groups. One group must consist of committed religious Jews from a variety of affiliations who believe in a combination of the particular and the universal within Judaism, inspired and based on the past but not held hostage by this past. The other group represents a secular Israel committed to creating serious Jewish content built on the Jewish bookshelf, Jewish memories, and the belief in joint Jewish values. These two sectors of Israeli society must join together to develop a vision of common purpose for the future of our state and people.
Along the seam, between these very different worlds, there is immense interest in developing new Jewish thinking with the potential to break the current monopoly on Jewish education. This alternative Jewish vision is not just a distant dream but is materializing within Israeli society today.
For the first time in Israel’s history, there is a new trend with a magnitude of initiatives. It turns out that these initiatives are answering a real need in today’s Israel. Spearheading these initiatives are the Meitarim educational institutions.
Meitarim, which translates as the strings of musical instruments, believes that the music which stems from playing with multiple instruments creates more beautiful and harmonious music than what can be created with one string alone. Meitarim provides a committed Jewish, pluralistic, coeducational environment, where religious and secular students can grow up and learn together in kindergartens, schools, pre and post military institutions in order to later build society and take responsibility for a common Jewish heritage and vision.
Meitarim was founded in 2001 not with the purpose of creating a few nice schools which could be like oases in the wilderness, but with a clear strategy and purpose of becoming an agent for transformation of Jewish life and the Israeli reality.
Today, I believe I can say with full conviction and responsibility that Meitarim is leading a crucial shift in public thinking and policy making in Israel. But Meitarim is still young and fragile; the forces that thrive on polarization and divisiveness are up in arms against us. The coalition of likewise thinking partners must be strengthened. We cannot do this alone, but surely there is a window of opportunity which for the first time in Israel’s history is giving true reason to believe that change can in fact occur.
- Rabbi Michael Melchior
From 1999-2009 Rabbi Melchior served as member of the Knesset, including Chairman of the Committee on Education and Culture. He also held several Ministerial posts, including Israeli Society and the World Jewish Community, Deputy Foreign Minister, and Deputy Minister for Education. Rabbi Melchior is a recipient of the Nobel Institute’s Prize for Tolerance and Bridge-Building and the Church of England’s Coventry Peace Prize for his contribution to world peace. He also is actively involved in the Norwegian Jewish Community, where he still holds the honorary position of Chief Rabbi.