It occurred to the visitor from Canada, as he stood marvelling at the sheer brazen ambition and massive skill of the artist, how good it would be if more of North America’s young Jewish adults knew about the exhibit.
Increasing numbers of campus-age, liberal North American Jewish youth are unfortunately turning away from the Jewish state because they equate the social, political and humanitarian disposition of Israel’s society with the policies of its current government. Of course, they are wrong to do so.
In demonstrably higher numbers than in most of the world’s democracies, the people of Israel are intensely engaged – through loud, occasionally nasty internal debate and also quiet displays of private, personal involvement – in the advancement of the fairness, justice and well-being of its society.
For the first time in Israel, works of renowned Chinese artist Ai Weiwei are on display. The artist is admired around the world as a political and social activist of remarkable courage, a human rights advocate of compelling conscience, as well as an artist of rare creative imagination and scope. The Israel Museum has dedicated a number of galleries to house the exhibition, so much of which carries the artist’s message of rage against the Chinese government’s political oppression of its citizens and the embrace of respect for individual freedom. By the third week in November, some four months since the exhibit’s installation, nearly half a million of Israel’s 8.5 million people had come to see the artist’s work for themselves.
The same thought occurred to the visitor the following day at Beit Hatfutsot on the campus of the University of Tel Aviv as he walked through an exhibition celebrating the life, music and impact of Bob Dylan.
Entitled Forever Young – Bob Dylan at 75, the exhibit incorporates film, pictures, images, posters, exhibits and his music to demonstrate the complexity of the poet/singer’s life. In a typically honest, open Israeli way, it explores the Nobel laureate’s life “according to three core themes: the social revolution that Dylan caused; Dylan’s influence on music throughout the world; and Dylan’s complex relationship with his Jewish identity.”
Not surprisingly, the exhibition has been a magnet for young Israelis. The gallery was alive during a midweek afternoon, with the energy of its youthful visitors reading, learning and perhaps internalizing some of the singer’s ideas. How very obvious it was to the older visitor that the young Israelis transfixed by Dylan’s story, and buzzing as a result of it through the halls of the museum, have a great deal in common with their North American counterparts.
The very same week as these museum visits, an article appeared on Israel21c.com reporting that 11,000 Israeli teenagers – Jews, Muslims and Christians – volunteer for Magen David Adom (MDA) on ambulances throughout Israel. This number comprises “a remarkable 60 per cent of the volunteer staff” of Israel’s emergency medical response teams.
Eli Yaffe, MDA deputy director for general training and culture, told Israel21c.com that as far as he knows this organization has “the biggest youth corps by percentage in the world.” Moreover, Yaffe added, many of the young volunteers in Israel actually tend to medical emergencies among patients rather than “merely” to the patients’ transfer to hospital. According to the article, approximately 700 MDA teens learned how to deal with mass-casualty disasters this past summer. About 230 learned how to teach first aid to their peers.
If young North American Jews knew more about the attitudes and the lives of their Israeli counterparts, would they be so quick – as some seem to be – to synonymize the behaviour of a fragile, narrow, right-wing coalition government with the inquisitive, socially minded, fun-seeking, community-building ways of young Israelis?