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Melamed: Jumping into cow dung on a warm day in Tel Aviv

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(Wikimedia Commons photo)

Tel Aviv in March.  The locus of Israel’s modern bourgeoisie. Luxury stores.  Boutique patisseries.  Mothers pushing strollers carrying babies bedecked in designer clothes. I sit in a small, friendly café with my friend Alan Gill, discussing the essence of fundraising. What motivates us, the fundraisers?  What motivates donors? In the warm spring sunshine we discuss the meaning of life. Health and wealth. What is most important and what is less so.

The following day Alan emailed me an article by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, which proposed “meaning” as a key to happiness. Alan added: “Sagi, this is what we aspire to give donors: meaning.”

I thought of this email on Friday afternoon just before Shabbat, when my son Ari called from the army base where he would be spending Shabbat. “It was a good week, Abba,” he said, “very interesting.  We did maneuvers: assaults, flanking, covering fire. Lots of live fire exercises. We slept three to a pup tent, crammed together. The weather was decent, it only rained the last day. It was a beautiful area, wildflowers everywhere.  You and Ima should go for a bike ride there. But unfortunately a herd of cows was also there, enjoying blooming nature, so the place was covered in cow dung. During night exercises we kept stepping and jumping right into cow s–t.”  From his upbeat and nonchalant narration, Ari, 19, didn’t sound the least bit distressed by this.

READ: KNOPF: INFUSING JEWISH VALUES IN OUR YOUTHS

“Ari,” I said, “let me read you something your brother sent me this morning.”
Guy, 25, who had finished his own military service less than a year earlier, had sent me an article he wrote about the trip he was currently enjoying in Jamaica with his American cousin Matan, 22.

Guy: “Matan and I sat on the branch of a bent palm tree, our feet buried in sand as white as snow, gazing on the blue waves breaking gently on the shore, talking about our different experiences of adolescence.”

Matan: “In college I had to swallow 10 live goldfish and run two miles with lit cigarettes in my mouth, to get into the Jewish fraternity.”

Guy: “In the army I had to navigate by myself many nights in the desert.”

Matan: “Man, you have no idea how tough football practice was!”

Guy: “Bro, tough practices?!  Have you heard of krav maga?”

Matan: “I’m working at IBM, then I’m going for my master’s.”

Guy: “You’ve already got a job and you’re thinking about your next degree?  I’ve only just taken the pre-college exam!”

“Ari, on the one hand you might be thinking about your U.S. friends from Bronfman Fellows or Yavne summer camp, debating which party to go to or what to do on spring break, while you’re jumping into cow dung and are confined to base over Shabbat.  On the other hand, there’s a time for everything. And when the day comes that you stand before the Throne of the Creator and He asks you what you have done for the Jewish people and for the State of Israel, what you are doing today will be considered to your merit.”

Israel’s next general election is approaching and, like every single election for the Knesset that I can recall, it is being described as “historic elections.”  But elections come and elections go.  Political leaders rise and fall.  And for us, it is worthwhile to remember that from the time our Patriarch Abraham declared that there is only one God, the situation of the Jewish people has never been better than it is today.  And it is so good, thanks to devoted Jews (and often non-Jews) in Israel and in the Diaspora, who consider it a privilege to contribute their share. Those who are willing to enjoy the flowers but also ready to jump right into the cow dung.

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Sagi Melamed is vice-president of external relations and development at the Max Stern Yezreel Valley College and president of the Harvard Club of Israel. He is the author of Son of My Land and Fundraising.