Consider the Big Picture
You are approaching the Western Wall in Jerusalem for the first time—or maybe the first time in a long while. Do you stop immediately on your initial glimpse to take a picture or do you walk around and savor every corner before deciding which angles to photograph? I’d say it’s fine to take that first-impression shot, but essential to do the 360-degree tour, too.
That’s what I think is missing in the way we measure progress, abetted by news reports that too often depart from the fullness of the day in favor of a single narrative, equivalent to the first impression.
When we do the full tour of the Kotel plaza, we see the beauty and history. We walk in step with the generations, but we also see the essential mixed with the quotidian: A dozen minyanim, including one with a bar mitzvah; men and women separating as they approach the Wall; children playing games; beggars begging; one guide speaking to a tour group in Spanish, another in Japanese; Israelis carrying groceries and foreigners carrying souvenirs. It’s the cavalcade of life—not the single arc of today’s version of history but many arcs crisscrossing.
As the secular year nears an end, I am struck by the need for context. Big problems, from America’s position in the world to Israeli-Palestinian peace, from political polarization to global warming, seem intractable. We are approaching the end of our second year dominated by Covid-19, a period detached from normal existence that has taken on wartime duration.
I don’t pretend that putting all these issues into broader context will solve them. But I do believe that context is crucial—for citizens and leaders—to create the perspective and inspiration that make solutions more possible.
Look at what the world has already accomplished with Covid: A vaccine in less than a year, using medical technology that will pay dividends far into the future. Many deaths, sadly, but also many acts of heroism and genius. Israel has become a world leader in Covid treatment and research and the Hadassah Medical Organization—the flagship project of Jewish women driven by purpose—a pillar of Israel’s efforts. And in a year of violence on Israel’s borders and in its cities, more examples at our medical center of Arab-Jewish cooperation that is both routine and extraordinary.
Consider the arc of Jewish history over the past century: Israel has flourished for 73 years, longer than the modern Zionist campaign to bring about its birth. Peace with Egypt has reigned for 42 years, longer than the seemingly endless state of war that preceded it. The last major captive Jewish communities—from Ethiopia and the former Soviet Union—have been free for more than 30 years.
We have much to be thankful for, including some of the milestones that mark this holiday season. Both the 1947 United Nations vote that created the Jewish state and the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s 1977 landmark visit to the Knesset took place during the week of Thanksgiving.
At Hanukkah, as we celebrate the restoration of Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel and the rededication of the Temple, we recall how many labored and sacrificed through the millennia so that we could
exercise our free will to continue their work.
The work of purpose-driven women continues. On January 9, 2022, Hadassah will convene a virtual national women’s conference entitled “The Power of Purpose.” It is natural that Hadassah, nurtured by Henrietta Szold’s vision, is the convener of such a conference, which will bring together women for a day of inspiration and empowerment. The event will include American and Israeli women making the greatest impact today in social justice, women’s health, advocacy and innovation. (Find profiles of some of the slated speakers here.) You will not want to miss this conference!
My best wishes to all of you for a happy and meaningful holiday season. And in 2022, may we all have our own vision come true: Rounding a corner and seeing Jerusalem as if for the first time.
Ilene Schneider says
Thanks for a very thoughtful and thought-provoking article. I enjoyed your suggestion that we take a 360 degree tour around the Kotel to really appreciate all the reasons that people are drawn to it.