When Israelis say, “I worry about my grandchildren’s future,” it has a radically different dimension than similar concerns expressed in many other countries.
Europeans’ current anxiety about the future derives mainly from darkening social and economic prospects. A number of Europeans and Americans are also apprehensive about climate change.
For Israelis, physical survival is a prime matter, often over and above their many other concerns.
Israeli society faces mortal risks from parts of the Muslim world where extreme anti-Semitic hatemongering is massive. Israel is threatened with a second Holocaust, for which the ideological basis is being laid today. The Islamic world has substantial components – such as Iran’s leaders and Hamas – that promote the genocide of Israel and Jews.
In the future, significant threats may also come from others – for example, if and when atomic bombs or fissile material fall into the hands of terrorists.
Palestinian society is permeated with sympathy for the most criminal major Muslim movement, al Qaeda. Those who see a “peace agreement” as an interim stage toward the annihilation of Israel are unreliable partners and not exactly the kind of people to whom concessions can be made.
In view of possible, albeit presently unforeseeable, radical changes in the Middle East, true peace is not a totally impossible dream. Yet this can be the case only after many other problematic developments are dealt with.
Meanwhile, Israelis for generations to come will serve in the army and risk their lives. Once one’s life is at stake, everything else becomes secondary.
As a result of their experiences, Israelis live in a reality that is unique among democratic nations and have worldviews that differ significantly from people who live in other societies.
Serving in the army means Israelis cannot live a life as fully defined by individualism as their counterparts do in Europe and the U.S. One can understand this from Prime Minister Netanyahu’s words on Yom HaZikaron – Israel’s Memorial Day – earlier this year.
“When you hear the siren tonight, we will turn into one family and the citizens of Israel will be united in our remembrance,” Netanyahu told his countrymen.
Western Europeans rarely turn into one family, though it may happen occasionally to some extent in the face of a natural or terrorist catastrophe or upon winning a soccer championship.
In Israel, due to the ups and downs of the economy and the political situation generally, few people outside government services assume that their employment will be uninterrupted and lifelong. This reality has helped cultivate a more flexible mindset among Israelis than is the case among Europeans or Americans.
Contrary to the typical Westerner, many Israeli youngsters realize they owe much to society and that what Israeli society owes them has its limits. At the same time, Israel’s unity is threatened in very different ways by major segments of two growing parts of the population – Israeli Arabs and haredim – as well by much smaller but far more vociferous groups of extreme leftists.
The threat of seeing one’s country destroyed is far from theoretical in Israel. Given this type of reality, Israeli youngsters must continue informal learning throughout their active lifetimes. In other words, invest in one’s brain as much as possible because that will be the main portable source of one’s knowledge in crisis situations.
Israelis should learn as many skills as possible – preferably those that can be used abroad as well as in Israel. Further, it is necessary to learn to speak proper English, which will remain the lingua franca of this century. Spending a few years abroad in one’s youth can be extremely useful for one’s future, wherever that may be.
In an uncertain Israeli environment, the important skill of improvisation will frequently be required; further development of it will, therefore, be more than merely useful.
Murphy’s Law is not necessarily valid: Not everything that can go wrong will go wrong, and if Israel continues to flourish in the remarkable way it has, the same skills will come in very handy in finding a place in Israeli society.
In Israel as elsewhere, there will be a small number of people who are extraordinarily talented. If they have reasonable emotional intelligence, they will enjoy unprecedented opportunities in a complex society.
About the Author: Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld is a board member and former chairman of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (2000-2012). He is a recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award (2012) of the Journal for the Study of Anti-Semitism.
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