Article By Eli Eshed

[Comments are welcome at our Dialogue Corner]

What Can Be Done?

Culture As An Existential Need

Many mourn the inevitable ruin of the State of Israel and of the culture that served as its basis. The typical Israeli careless conduct caused the tragic collapse of the Versailles Hall in Jerusalem, the faults in relocating the Pi-Glilot petrol terminal near Tel Aviv, the growing pollution of the country's rivers, and who knows what else is about to happen. All these are results of short term thinking and ignoring long term implications.

The press regularly attacks the younger generation for failing to achieve the standards of its predecessors, mainly in the fields of education and culture.

Indeed, the situation in these areas is not particularly bright. Let us take the Hebrew literature as an example. The last author who succeeded in touching many readers, Etgar Keret, has started writing quite a few years ago. I can think of one or two original writers who appeared on the scene since then, but they enjoyed little success. This is a worrying indication of the decline in the quality of our literature.

In addition, the number of readers is steadily decreasing, mainly among the young generation, who seem to prefer other forms of entertainment, such as television and computer games. Although this is a global problem, it is still disturbing, since it may end up in future generations regressing to a situation similar to the Middle Ages, when only an educated minority could read, while all others received information through visual media.

It is also distressing to see the deterioration of the faculties of the humanities and Judaism in our Universities. This phenomenon is alarming because these are the foundations of Israeli culture. The values created by this culture (and I certainly refer to religion as well) are those which provide human beings with the will and the strength to stay in their homeland and struggle against hardship.

The cultural values, created here for many years by authors and poets, educators and statesmen, led to the creation of the modern Jewish state. They comprised Jewish values, Socialist and utopian ones (the Kibbutz) and Western ideals. This culture was not based on fear and hatred, nor limited to the desire to escape anti-Semitism, but also expressed aspirations to create something better. It seems that this will has totally disappeared and was replaced with materialism and craving for "the good life" - based on individualism that borders on extreme egotism that may destroy our community life.

So what can be done?

Human beings cannot live on bread and money alone, they need something else to believe in. In my view, we should revive our culture and values, for which people would be prepared to live and fight. We should create a culture that would appeal to other nations, who may wish to join it, just like the cultures offered by Christianity, Islam and Buddhism.

Our current situation is grave, not only due to hostilities and the social-economic crisis, but also because of long term processes, such as the climatic holocaust that threatens to dry out our region, which keeps warming up and thus may gradually become uninhabitable. In such a situation, we must develop new values of mutual assistance, solidarity, environmental awareness and long term planning. We must abandon the "dog eat dog" attitude, which we borrowed from the American culture, and that may prove destructive in our reality.

The renewed culture should include traditional Jewish values (which survived and developed for 2000 years, and thus should not be easily dismissed) along with more universal values.

Our enemies derive encouragement from seeing the decline of the Jewish-Israeli culture. We must revive our culture and adapt it to the changing climatic and other conditions. We should incorporate in our culture all the groups that live in our country, as we are all threatened by the same dangers. Perhaps a united struggle against natural problems would help us to overcome our differences and antagonism. In my humble opinion, the future of the people and the State of Israel would be secured through joining the global endeavour to rescue humankind from self destruction in an ecological disaster.

Such a culture should be created primarily through education. I propose to enlist idealistic, charismatic individuals, mainly educators but also from other walks of life (yes, there such people around), to lead the construction of a new approach. These leaders would guide other teachers with their methods. All the programmes that our Ministry of Education attempted to force from above have failed. Perhaps people who work in the field would produce better results.

We should make supreme efforts to develop such a culture, despite the difficult conditions. The alternative seems to be an apocalyptic catastrophe, which the radical Islam is preparing for us, assisted and encouraged by the extreme right and left in the West, in a world that is becoming less and less suitable for human survival.

Time seems to work against us and not everything is in our hands. Any process of cultural change takes a long time and we may have only a short while left.

Nevertheless, we must start working now.

Eli Eshed, 22/April/2004

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