As we approach the High Holyday Festivals it is worthwhile to assess the achievements of the past year and the challenges looming in front of us for the year ahead.
Surveying the chaos, mayhem and human misery currently afflicting many parts of the globe we can count our blessings that here in Israel we have emerged from the past year with a strong economy and achievements which are the envy of many. This is not to say that there are no problems which must be tackled but in the overall scheme of things they do not compare with the serious dramas enveloping other countries.
Last year I predicted that peace would not break out any time soon despite the frenetic efforts of those in Washington, the UN and the EU to force a Munich version upon us at any price. The reason is the same today as it has always been. Unless and until the Islamic and Arab world internalises the fact that Israel is legitimately established upon its ancestral land and that Jews have every right to build, live and be here, there can never be any meaningful progress. So long as the deniers, inciters and supporters of terror are allowed by the international community to get away with their behavior, you can forget about the real peace we all pray and yearn for.
No other country faced with having to spend so much of its budget on security related matters has achieved so much in such a short space of time as the Jewish State.
In every field of endeavor the last twelve months have witnessed amazing and outstanding contributions in a variety of fields. Hardly a week goes by when there is not a medical discovery, innovation or new research which benefits not just Israelis but also humanity as a whole. The start-up nation continues to astound with its advances in cyber security, space and satellite technology, driverless vehicles and drones, agricultural know how and advanced techniques to improve crop yields just to mention a few areas of excellence.
Israel has proven yet again in the past year that when disaster strikes anywhere in the world it will be the first or among the first to respond with practical and immediate aid. Nations in Africa and Asia now realise that Israel can provide life saving assistance and aid with no strings attached which will improve the lives of their citizens. All this from a small country constantly threatened with terror and annihilation.
This past year has witnessed frenetic activity in the building of roads, tunnels and bridges to cope with an increasing population. The development of the railway infrastructure has been spectacular. This coming Pesach should see the opening of the new Jerusalem to Tel Aviv high-speed train which will have four trains per hour from the Capital via the airport to Tel Aviv taking just 30 minutes.
The shekel is strong, unemployment is at an historic low, tourism is at an all time high and Israel’s universal health care coverage puts the USA, where millions are uninsured, to shame.
Does all this mean that there are no problems which need tackling? Of course not and therein are the challenges for the coming year.
In no particular order of importance these include:
Cost of living – continued efforts must be made to raise remuneration for the average worker and pensioner, reduce the burden of taxation, increase competition and above all to lower the cost of housing. Progress is being made but not quickly enough for many. The rapid development of rail connections to peripheral areas means that more affordable homes can be purchased while commuting to work is made much more convenient. Critics usually overlook the fact that the price of houses in the main cities is outrageously expensive. What is true for Tel Aviv and Jerusalem is also true for Sydney, Melbourne and Auckland. Unless you have inherited wealth, financially solvent parents or other sources of income you can forget about purchasing an apartment in any of these cities.
Charedi and Arab participation in the workforce – these sectors of society hitherto excluded from gaining employment either because of lack of secular education or their refusal to participate, are already joining the workforce in greater numbers. Economic necessity and a changing attitude amongst younger members of these groups means increased enrollment in job training courses. The trend is clearly evident and the challenge is to encourage it by all means available.
IDF service: Universal army service or community service is the bedrock of Israeli society. In recent times there has been significant increase in Charedi enlistment, something which would have been unbelievable a few years ago. The usual fanatics are still violently against it but they are fighting a losing battle.
Tension between sectors of society: like most economically advanced countries there is a large gap between those who are deprived and others who have no financial problems. Renewed efforts must be made to try to help those in genuine need. Israel is unique in the number of charitable and voluntary groups which exist to help the disadvantaged in a variety of fields and it is true to say that without these organizations the situation would be dire. Tensions between different groups such as religious and secular as well as various ethnicities is another area which needs to be tackled more vigorously in the coming year. People often forget that Israel’s population consists of individuals from every part of the world as well as diverse cultures and norms of behavior. Integrating them takes generations in many cases. Remarkable progress has been made and the coming year hopefully will see more achievements.
An urgent reform of the Chief Rabbinate to bring it into line with modern times and detach it from the political stranglehold now prevailing is long overdue.
The fight against terror: this is a never-ending challenge and one which Israel has usually had to tackle on its own. Not so long ago the rest of the world believed that terrorism was our problem alone and that they could conveniently ignore it. Now that Islamic terror has erupted in most parts of the world the penny has dropped in some places at least that what Israel warned about has come to pass. However, given the reluctance to face reality on the part of many it is certain that the coming year will unfortunately witness further terrorist outrages. As long as the EU, UN and sundry others continue to obsess about Israel while refusing to recognize the root cause of the dangers facing them the spread of terror will be unstoppable.
Concurrently we see the virulent resurgence of Jew and Israel hatred and the weak responses to its evil ideology by politicians, academics and media amongst others.
Intensive initiatives must be launched to stop the implosion of Jewish identity in the USA and every effort should be undertaken to convince Jews living in countries with a very uncertain future that it is finally time to come home.
We look forward with trepidation, but at the same time with confidence that a strong, proud and assertive Jewish State with a history of overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles will see us succeed in meeting the challenges facing us.
Shana Tova – we pray for a healthy and tranquil year.