Sunday, December 27, 2009

Imagine. . . .

Imagine all the people living life in peace. . . . .John Lennon

On December 8, 1980 John Lennon of Beatles fame was shot and killed in front of his apartment building in Manhattan. His widow Yoko Ono endowed Strawberry Fields, a patch of serenity in Central Park named for one of Lennon’s songs. Every year on December 8, people gather in Strawberry Fields for an impromptu “healing circle.” Many bring guitars and play Lennon’s songs. The rest listen, reflect and perhaps light a candle. One year I stumbled upon the gathering, having gone to Central Park for another purpose. This year I had the time and deliberately went there. Most of my generation of Americans remembers Lennon’s song Imagine, where he beautifully expresses our hope that all of humanity would learn to stop fighting one another and simply get along. John F. Kennedy expressed that hope in his campaign speeches. I remember reading an op-ed in the Jewish Press knocking the song and its writer as utopian. Well, utopian it is, but so what? Is it any more utopian than our hope for Mashiach? Where would we be if we couldn’t imagine a world better than the one we have? Would we strive to make a better world, a world free of racism, poverty, disease and other scourges? Indeed, while many scientific discoveries come about by serendipity (looking for one thing and finding something else even better), others came about because scientists imagined something new and better, then set about creating it. They imagined a world without polio and developed vaccines that eradicated the disease, imagined a world without unwanted children and came up with The Pill.

Imagine a world where two strong, healthy men could get together and, without forbidden sexual contact, make strong, healthy boys. Or the analogous situation for women. Most of the technological dots are already in place, but nobody seems to be connecting them. If it ever becomes reality, would there be any rationale for a secular society not to allow same-sex marriage? What about all the halakhic problems such an arrangement would engender? Must we wait until such problems are upon us before we start thinking about them?

Now imagine a world where Jews and Arabs in Israel put aside a century of enmity and live together in peace. Pipe dream? Yes, unless young Jews and Arabs make it a reality. And the place to start is Jerusalem. There is no separation barrier there. That came down in 1967. Anybody can walk from one part of the city to the other. Imagine five Jewish teenagers dribbling a basketball into the Arab part of town, finding a court with a game going, and challenging the winners as kids do the world over. Presto - human contact. You can't hate and play basketball at the same time. In their commingled sweat they will discover their common humanity and how wonderful it is to be young, strong and full of life. Hey, it worked in Crown Heights.

Holding on to Judea and Samaria as I believe we must (click here) with its large hostile Arab population that is not about to pack up and leave will require imaginative, outside-the-box thinking. An example of such thinking is the Elon Plan, which posits only one Palestinian state, the one that already exists and that sits on 80% of mandatory Palestine. It is called Jordan. The Arabs of Judea and Samaria would be citizens of Jordan living in Israeli territory. They will carry Jordanian passports and their children will go to Jordanian schools that will fly the Jordanian flag on Israeli territory. The guiding principle is known as extraterritoriality. It was never tried before on such a grand scale. But America's founding fathers knew well that they were setting up a form of government - a republic - that had not been tried since Roman times and that failed then. The rest, as they say, is history. Extraterritoriality can work if both sides are determined to make it work, and one of its pillars must be regular and frequent sporting contact between Israeli and Arab schoolchildren. One thing is certain. If the past 60-plus years is any guide, peace will not come down like manna from heaven. It will not come from governments. But people-to-people contact might just make it grow from the ground up.

As Robert F. Kennedy said, "Some see things as they are and say why; I dream things that never were and say why not."