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The Missing Link between the Individual and the State

By Moshe Feiglin

We spent Shabbat at Avnei Eitan in the Golan Heights. Childhood friends who were driven out of Gush Katif now live there in a neighborhood of trailer homes. They have not yet received authorization to build a permanent home, but with no help from anyone, they did build three small guest cabins in their back yard.  We packed up our extended family and set out to the north for some R&R in the small slice of heaven-on-earth that G-d has given our friends in the Golan Heights.

From the looks of things up north, tourism has become the main source of income for the farmers there. The state of Tel Aviv is in desperate search of some open countryside and clean air and farms that were once dangerously close to bankruptcy have a generous supply of both those commodities. Thank G-d, the tourism business up north is a success story. I pray that some of this prosperity will rub off on the Gush Katif refugees who I met in Avnei Eitan.

Where do these people, aged 50 plus, get the strength to start all over again, and in the Golan Heights, no less, which has been teetering on the edge of Israeli retreat for the past forty years?  I did not ask them. Shabbat is not the time to open unhealed wounds. But clearly, a good part of the answer is that the Gush Katif refugees have an asset that most of the Nation of Israel lacks: Community.

Historically, Jews have always lived in structured communities. When we returned to our Land – and even more so, when we established our state – someone decided that the community was extraneous and its power and authority should be transferred to the centralized state of the Labor party (then called Mapai). The traditional communities were scratched and the Zionist melting pot boiled us all into one big “Mother of all Communities.”

 The lyrics to a popular song by the Dudaim Duo from about thirty years ago artfully depict the outcome: (freely translated)

Pushed and shoved into small cans of tin
Waiting for a bit of air
The people stuck inside knock and knock
They want to get out
The people outside want to get back in

We don’t see the blue skies
We don’t see the rainbow in the clouds
There are no more holidays, just ordinary days
The entire world is black and white.

 The individual bereft of community is a very lonely and hopeless person. Somewhere out there, in the government offices, there are faceless people who have been hired to run his life. But these clerks, even if they have good intentions, have no real ability to understand the individual’s needs and no convincing reason to really help him. Modern technology has exacerbated the problem; who dares dream today of calling a large office and talking to a real person? It is impossible to reach the heads of the Mother of all Communities. The government offices have websites and you, Mr. Cohen, can talk to the wall – or to the computer screen.

 In almost every democracy in the world, elections are district-based. District-based elections encourage the development of local leadership and motivate that leadership to take responsibility. In the US, every citizen has his congressman, alderman or precinct captain. Even the local police chief and the local judge are elected by the community. An elected public official presumably wants to be re-elected, so he will make sure to answer phone calls and to do his best to attend to the needs of his constituents.

 In Israel, the political parties are more like large corporations. The individual does not vote for people. Instead he must vote for labels, who sit on high with one hundred percent power and zero responsibility.

 Israel is becoming a wealthy state. Nevertheless, it is not able to properly care for its weak and underprivileged. State social workers routinely direct the needy to charity NGOs.  The centralized government has no way to know who really needs help and who has learned to cynically take advantage of the system. As a result, over half of Israel’s social security budget is allocated to Israel’s Arab population – which is working and living well – while truly needy people are forced to turn to charity organizations.

 Israel must re-invent itself as a community-based country. It must encourage the formation of small communities, allowing them to retain a large portion of the local taxes collected from its members. If that were the case, we could be sure that the local needy would not be abandoned; their problem would become the community’s problem and responsibility – not the state’s.

Those people who have had the privilege to live in active communities, like the settlers, for instance, know just how well the community model works. When a person in the community hits a tough spot, the neighbors know and enter the picture with genuine care. Together with their local leadership, they find the ways to help.

 Welfare is the first responsibility that must be returned to the community. But it is certainly not the last. In principle, the only responsibilities of the state are security, justice and national infrastructure. “The king makes wars and metes out justice,” Maimonides writes in The Laws of Kings. Today, the state does just the opposite. It interferes in virtually every aspect of the citizens’ lives while ignoring its main responsibilities – security and justice.

The community is the missing link between the individual family and the state. We must urgently rehabilitate it. It should be the privilege and right of every citizen of Israel.

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