Coming of Age After Purim

by Avi Zimmerman
There’s a taste of “what do you want to be when you grow up?” when kids dress up for Purim. We smile and we laugh, both because the kids are ridiculously cute and because we’ve been there, done that. Somewhere along the way we’ve lost our innocence.

Our children look into our eyes; they sense that, perhaps, someone doesn’t truly believe in their dreams as much as they do.

Maybe it’s time we stop laughing.

The Jewish People celebrated Purim last week. Good times. Good fun. But with Purim behind us and the Israeli holiday season on the horizon, let’s make sure that Purim’s place and proportions are carefully framed.

Purim has become so much a part of the Jewish journey that it’s difficult to put our finger on it.

The story of our people, virtually annihilated, concludes with an awkward climax of survival. It’s reminiscent of the old joke that typifies the underlying narrative of many of our holidays: “they tried to destroy us, we survived, let’s eat.”

Sadly, the joke simply isn’t funny.

Is that it? Is that what we’re here for? To survive? To exist? To experience the ingathering of the exiles, arrive in Israel and eat of the fruit of the land? There are at least two serious flaws with our national ethos, both of which predate the establishment of the modern-day State of Israel.

The first is viewing survival as an ultimate goal. The Zionists of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were looking for a safe haven.

They weren’t trying to lead or deliver any sort of meaningful value to the family of nations – they merely wanted to survive. And who could blame them? Two thousand years of exile certainly made the bare-minimum survival story of Esther and Mordechai seem like an ideal. But what about now? Today we’re in Israel, living and breathing the ups and downs of a country with the opportunity and responsibility to provide its citizens with security.

Now what? The second flaw is rooted not in our goals but in our character. Since conception, Israel has suffered from an early onset of adulthood.

As opposed to our children who dress up for Purim, our country never truly enjoyed the luxury of juvenile innocence. We were forced to grow up quickly with the outbreak of our War of Independence.

The UN General Assembly’s 1947 Partition Plan, which triggered the war, similarly injected pathological perspectives into our national identity.

It suggested that we needed the world to approve our legitimacy, and that, in the case of Israel, triumph and compromise are necessarily two sides to the same coin.

Indeed, the notion that we would be birthed alongside a twin who rejects our very right to exist is a psycho-thriller plot that continues to haunt the way we think to this very day.

But as we begin to consider where we’ve been, we need to ask ourselves if we’re ready to move on.

We’ve figured out how to survive in a dangerous region; check. New, pragmatic diplomatic approaches are finally being explored, in place of destructive Partition Plan/twostate solution theories that have fallen by the wayside; check. Now, as the State of Israel nears the seasoned age of 70, are we finally ready to dream? A peace-activist associate once told me a about his litmus test question.

He liked to ask Israeli Jews if they would prefer to wake up in the morning and discover that there either were or weren’t Arabs between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. Is the Arab population an incidental factor that Israel needs to cope with, manage or take into consideration for practical reasons, or are Arabs an essential part of a moral and demographic puzzle, inherent to the Israel condition? In his peace-making efforts, he was challenging people to think out of the box. The key, as he saw it, was not to engineer our circumstances, but rather to cast a vision.

Policy would grow from principles, ideals and dreams, instead of the other way around.

What about borders? What if there were no clearly set borders? How big, or how small, would your dream-Israel be? What if there was no United Nations? No international media? If no one was watching your every move, what would your dream-Israel’s voice sound like? Looking beyond the pathologies of our recent history, let’s remember that refreshing ideas are not merely “alternatives.” It’s time to conduct an internal conversation, within and among the people of Israel, about who we are and what we hope to be. Let’s not squander our historic opportunity to transform survivalism into purpose, and early-onset-adulthood into a coming of age.

As we move forward, it’s critical that we use the lessons of our rich history – from the Purim era through the age of Zionism – to inform our future. While proceeding cautiously, realpolitik must also be taken into consideration every step along the way. But all things considered, it’s not the policies per se but our capacity to dream that will breathe life into this exciting process.

And when our wide-eyed children escape from the limitations of their day to day lives and dare to dream, let’s make sure not to laugh.

Instead, let’s encourage them to dream even bigger.

The author is executive director of American Friends of Ariel and the founder of TALK17.

Originally published in the Jerusalem Post.