I had an interesting conversation with an Israeli friend the other day. She asked me about the similarities between Evangelical Christians and Israeli Jews, beyond our common love for Israel and for G-d. I thought about it for a bit and then responded that I saw both of our faith communities as facing similar challenges from an increasingly secular world. Values that were once part of the consensus can no longer be taken for granted. Fundamental concepts such as marriage have come under attack. Extreme liberals are dominating the discourse and those who don’t agree with their world views are often frightened to express their opinions for fear of being mocked or even ostracized.
Actually, in Israel we are in a better situation than most since we are the only Western country that is more religious today than we were 20 years ago. There is no question that there is a general return to traditional values in Israel, with more Jews seeking to return to their roots, to connect to their history and traditions then ever before. But even in Israel, the consensus on some issues is being threatened. So while there is a growing debate among some sectors in Israel as to whether to allow gay marriage and gay adoptions, for example, it remains a minority that pursues these issues.
Israel remains one of the most family-oriented societies in the world. Society embraces new parents and their babies, and the laws of the country encourage extended maternity leave, while assisting mothers who want to return to work to do so while helping them look after their children. Daycare is subsidized and the work place is considerate of young parents.
But as I consider and discuss these issues with my friend, I realize how deeply important my own family is to me. I am not carrying signs that read yes to family values and I am not involved in any of the movements that seek to change or prevent changes on these critical issues. But my own family life speaks volumes as to where I stand.
Tomorrow, my husband Ed and I will celebrate 40 years of marriage. It is really hard to believe that it has been that many years already. We met at university in 1975. I had just returned from my gap year in Israel and he was already a 3rd year student. We were part of a group of Orthodox Jews that celebrated Shabbat together each week and over time, we paired off. We got married just a few weeks after I received my BA.
Before we got married, we discussed and agreed upon the core issues that would become the foundation of our marriage and our family. We wanted lots of children. We wanted to move to Israel. And we both wanted to develop careers while remaining very involved and engaged in raising our children.
And G-d blessed us richly, enabling us to achieve the things we cared most about. We have five children whom we raised in Samaria. Today our four sons are married and we have six grandchildren. We raised our children steeped in the faith of their ancestors with a deep love for their people and their land. Most of our children have followed in our footsteps but even those who have chosen a slightly different path, are still very much a part of our family, connected by deep bonds of love and joy.
Ed and I fell in love when we were very young and our love has grown and matured over the years. What began as starry-eyed infatuation became a rich partnership, as we raised our family and worked tirelessly to strengthen our community and our nation. And we have always thanked G-d for what He has bestowed upon us.
Israel is a country of families. And our families continue to grow as we have more children and grandchildren and as our children link with other families through marriage, extending our own families to encompass others. It is well known that there are probably only 2 or 3 degrees of separation in Israel because we are so inter-connected.
When tragedy strikes or, conversely, when a joyous occasion is upon us, our circle of mourners or celebrants is wide indeed. Years ago when Israel was plagued by constant terrorism, I tried to explain to friends from abroad how connected we all were and how we all mourned the loss of each young life taken even if we did not know them personally. Because we always knew someone who did.
Just yesterday I hosted a group of law students from around the world in Karnei Shomron. We divided them up into small groups, who were each hosted by families for a short discussion. One of the students in my group asked how the Jewish people managed to survive all these centuries of persecution and exile. And our host family answered with one word — family. We passed down our traditions from parent to child and we remained connected and committed to the family. We married Jews, brought them into our family, and helped create the larger family that is the Jewish people.
Family is the key to a stable life and a life of faith. Let’s not just pay lip service to family values. Let’s strengthen families. We can strengthen our own families and we can strengthen those that need help. We can reach out to at-risk teens who have weak or dysfunctional families. We can strengthen our community structures which in turn strengthens the family. For when we strengthen the family, we strengthen the nation and ultimately create a better world.