Sir Paul passed the milestone almost six years ago, has millions of admirers worldwide telling him he’s still needed, and is feeding himself just fine. What about us?
McCartney wrote “When I’m 64,” our adopted Zionist anthem this year, when he was in his teens. But he revived and refined it in the summer of 1966, and it was his father he was thinking of then: James McCartney turned 64 that July, and that evidently seemed ancient from his son’s perspective. While Paul, 24, had the world at his feet, his father had entered an age of hair loss, of encroaching helplessness, of the desperate search for continued affection, relevance and purpose.
Israel at 64 is much more Paul than James McCartney – curious, maturing, certainly still seeking to be loved, but far from helpless.
And we need to do seriously what he playfully did then – look ahead, contemplate the uncertain future, and make sure we’re as ready as we can be to deal with it.
This is an extraordinary nation – restored to its homeland after the longest exile in human history because it simply refused to be annihilated, and restoring that homeland in a neighborhood that still seeks to annihilate it.
We’ve made a barren land productive, and shown those other barren nations that were willing to listen how to do the same. We’ve revived our ancient language of prayer and molded it to meet every modern linguistic imperative. And the revival of Hebrew is emblematic of the revival of Israel, a vibrant nation built on ancient roots that we have shaped to meet every modern challenge – shaped so successfully as to serve not only as a refuge for those in life-threatening need, but as a destination of choice for those with the flair, courage and will to become part of the remarkable flux of Jewish sovereign history.
But now we have to accelerate our hesitant transition from youthful, all-conquering zeal to a more adult stability. That means we need to decide more precisely, for ourselves, what kind of a grown-up country we want to be.
How, for instance, are we going to stably reconcile the conflicting imperatives of a first world democracy with respect for the religion that sustained us in exile? The Orthodox – increasingly ultra-Orthodox – stranglehold on life-cycle events cannot hold. And the ad hoc arrangements that have produced, for the first time in Jewish history, an entire demographic sector that has abandoned the religious requirement to join the productive workforce, cannot be sustained. It is as untenable for the willfully ill-educated, impoverished members of the ultra-Orthodox community as it is for the rest of the society that is resentfully supporting them.
As with our spiritual framework, and however bitter the argument, too, we can no longer afford to stave off the search for consensus on our physical dimensions. In a different reality, with millions more Jews between the Jordan River and the Sea, perhaps we could have had it all – a predominantly Jewish Israel, a democratic Israel, and a great big Israel that encompassed all the resonant locales in Judea and Samaria where our Biblical history played out. But there aren’t enough Jews, so something has to give, or we risk losing everything. And the refusal of most of our enemies to acknowledge our sovereign legitimacy and adopt policies for a viable reconciliation does not free us of our need to determine our territorial requirements, and to allocate resources accordingly.
It would certainly help Israel to explain abroad its needs and challenges if we could decide for ourselves where our physical red lines should be drawn. But more importantly, we owe it to ourselves. We need to encourage our people to live where their presence is vital, and tell them honestly where it is counterproductive. The blurring and the inconsistency are the hallmarks of a childish refusal to take hard decisions.
The past week’s memorial period produced not one, not two, but three small, self-contained tragedies that only a blind, deaf society could fail to interpret as wake-up calls – as minor proofs that, no, not everything will be okay, actually, if we don’t engage in some serious planning for the future.
A young soldier fell down and died at the end of a four-day drill for an elite army unit, either because he was medically unfit, or because he was dehydrated, or because of a combination of the two – either way, a young, brave life apparently lost because of inadequate oversight. A woman was critically injured as she stood solemnly by her car at the side of the road to honor the memory of the victims of the Holocaust, crushed by another driver who careened blindly round the corner. And another soldier, a young female officer, was killed when the lighting rig above the stage where she was rehearsing for Independence Day smashed down upon her. You simply could not conjure up a starker metaphorical warning – the youth, vigor and optimism of Independence, decades of potential, broken in an instant, snuffed out, by a callous indifference to safeguarding the future.
We’ve achieved so much here in the 64 years of independence and the pioneering decades that preceded them. And there were many occasions, over the years, when we may have had no choice but to sacrifice oversight and future planning because the immediate challenges were so acute. Sometimes, young Israel may have had to careen blindly round corners.
But now it’s time to grow up – not least because those who strive every minute to wipe us out have become more skilled and sophisticated over the years. They’ve learned from the failures of their past efforts to eliminate what they revile as the Zionist enterprise. More cunning, less over-confident, they are working methodically toward our destruction. We will prevail only if we supplement our innovative vigor with mature stewardship of our own destiny.
In 1966, Paul McCartney was very whimsically planning ahead for a period “many years from now.” Our existence demands that we very seriously do the same.