One way of looking at the news is to be grateful than 91% of Americans who want to work are currently employed. Most of the poor in the US enjoy air-conditioning, color/cable TVs, the use of an automobile (and sometimes two), and Americans suffer more from obesity than from hunger. That is not to say that there are no problems or hardship in the US or anywhere else in the world, only that perspective is critical to life and finding solutions to problems.
I have been in Israel a little less than a month, and one’s perspective on events here changes because of the new vantage point. It is never as gloomy here as it sometimes appears from abroad, and for the simplest reason: abroad, our filter on events is almost exclusively the media, and the media’s function is to highlight (exaggerate?) problems, injustice, dangers, flaws, foibles and corruption. About the only news reported is bad news; good news need not apply, except in special sections devoted to “good news.” If it bleeds, it leads, the worst of the human condition is accentuated, and there are no problems – only catastrophes. But real life is not like that. The media distortions – or emphases – are as grotesquely inaccurate as looking at oneself in a fun-house mirror.
Here, what we abroad tend to see as a willful blindness to looming dangers (Iran, incoming rockets, UN decisions, etc.) is, in fact, just living normal lives. School resumed yesterday, and the first day of school is a national event – all parents take their children to school (work is delayed), and the atmosphere is festive – it is almost like the “parent vacation” begins. The sun shines every day, the weather is beautiful, the holiness of the land is tangible (well, depending on where you are), the shuls are filled, the Torah is studied and implemented, the malls are crowded, families celebrate joyous occasions together, neighbors assist each other in every sphere, the modernization is glorious, Shabbat is truly peaceful, and anyone with a sense of history can only marvel at the creation and the accomplishments of the Jewish state in just over six decades. All “problems” pale before that.
Undoubtedly, the picture is not entirely bucolic. There are struggles in every sphere for many people – financial, religious, personal, etc. Every institution of society can be upgraded and improved, and some drastically so. Nothing is ever perfect – and the media here, even more partisan than in the US – is relentlessly negative. But they are easily tuned out, or at least compartmentalized. It could be that the macro-situation is so frightening than people focus on their micro-existence, but who is to say they are incorrect in their assessment? Who is to say that there is some point in time – before the Messianic age – in which society will be perfected? That is a misconception that can simply ruin lives and detract from our collective and individual happiness.
Often, there is a sense – driven by the media – that if a particular policy course is selected, paradise will ensue (and vice versa – disaster will come if another approach is taken). But problems that are solved simply give way to new problems of an unprecedented and unanticipated nature. The relief of the end of the Cold War was almost immediately followed by the panic of the hot wars of radical Islam against the Jews and the Western world. The business cycle still produces the boom and the busts. The insistent demands for “social justice” and “equality” are somewhat self-defeating, because they are vague objectives that can never be attained even if they sound enlightened.
There has been intense hype of the “social protests” by the media but, aside from certain adjustments to existing policies, it seems not to have attracted broad-based support and has foundered on the shoals of leftist politicization and incoherent and incomprehensible demands. And the protesters do not speak for the “people;” granted, no single group ever does, because most “people” are not involved in protests or demonstrations, or are politically active at all. While Israelis tend to be more politically engaged than Americans – roughly 2/3 of the citizenry votes, a far greater percentage than in the US – voting and being politically active and astute are not identical processes. So Israelis, like Americans, tend to be easily manipulated by politicians and their promises. But here it is magnified – demonstrations that attract 25 loud people can lead the news, if their agenda conforms to the media’s agenda.
The “people,” as it were, tend to go to work, earn a living, raise their children, nurture their spiritual lives, and take pride – immense pride – in Israeli accomplishments. The average Israeli, in that sense, is much more patriotic than the average American. There is a healthy sense of skepticism, and an internal corrective mechanism that operates. (Today’s news that long-time, extreme left-wing Jerusalem Post columnist Larry Derfner was fired for his private but written musings that justified Arab terrorism against Jewish civilians, is a sign of that corrective mechanism. Americans would – wrongly – be up in arms shouting about the “free press” et al, but the First Amendment does not mean that every single organ of the press is “free.”)
Even the rockets of the last few weeks have receded for now, but the greater impact is minimal. A bomb in Tel Aviv does not resonate in Yerushalayim, and rockets on Be’er Sheva are not felt in Haifa. That is not to say that people don’t care; of course, people care – but they still maintain their normal lives when they are not directly impacted. In that sense, it is a small country (roughly the size of New Jersey) but much larger than it seems.
Perhaps it is natural that residents do not obsess over the looming dangers because one could easily go insane and live in constant terror of tomorrow’s unknown. Conversely, people of faith are reassured – and there are many more people of faith here than there are religious Jews – that G-d’s will prevails, and that He has a special providence over this land and its people. It is also comforting to know that not every problem can and will be resolved in our lifetimes, and the increasing realization that “peace” is not coming anytime soon has a strangely calming effect on the masses. That recognition should – we pray – stay the hand of the unyielding appeasers, has created a sense that Israelis have done what they can for “peace” without any reciprocity, and engendered an attitude that lends itself to living good, healthy, productive and meaningful lives – and not worry about threats that might never truly materialize.
Certainly that does not relieve the politicians, the political thinkers and the defense establishment of their obligations to plan, deter, thwart, and respond to every security predicament – but it does enable the average person to focus on the normal routines that preoccupy people everywhere.
There is no shortage of bad news, here and everywhere, but to see only crises and troubles is to distort and disfigure life in the Holy Land, and really everywhere else in the world. There is a confidence here born of weathering worse storms – hunger, poverty, starvation and wars against more powerful enemies, not to mention the traumas of Jewish history, past and recent. And there is a desire to live, grow, prosper and seek satisfaction in the fulfillment of the remarkable prophecies that have come true in our time.
One need not always debate whether the glass is half-full or half-empty; sometimes it is just easier to fill the glass.