Rabbi Dr. Donniel Hartman speaks at Convention.
"There are not many groups I would feel more comfortable talking to. You are not fair weather friends; you are here through good and bad, so we can talk in ways that you can't talk elsewhere – we can talk honestly," Rabbi Dr. Donniel Hartman told the audience at the Tuesday session of Hadassah's Centennial Celebrations held at Binyanei Ha'uma in Jerusalem.
Opening the session on the future of social justice in Israel, Hadassah National Jewish Zionist Education Chair Leah Reicin from Chicago said, "This country made our people and our people made this country, so we can call it 'our country' but because we don't live here, we don't pay taxes, we don't experience the incredible highs and lows of everyday life, we do not merit the right to claim that our country is 'my Israel.' But Dr. Hartman has earned that merit."
Hartman, author and president of the Shalom Hartman Institute, focused his discussion on what he loves about Israel in contrast to how he thinks people who love Israel can and should focus not only on loving Israel but on being agents for change.
"I have loved Israel for most of my life," he said. "But love by definition has to be something dynamic that changes as you and the object of your love changes. The great danger is not just love that is stagnant but love that is nostalgic – viewing your love for what it was, not what it is today."
Hartman had the audience laughing when he recalled how he first fell in love with Israel as a child after discovering kosher grilled chicken in Israeli supermarkets.
"I fell in love with Israel because of the kosher chicken," he said. "It wasn't much more complicated than that." When he grew up he fell in love again with Israel because of the Jewishness in the public sphere. At the age of 18, seeing Israel through the eyes of a young soldier, he fell in love with "Jewish power" – the power of having an army that represented his people and the power of putting on a uniform and feeling important, he said.
He also recalled falling in love with the unity of the country when his brother-in-law was killed in service, noting that on Memorial Day most of Israel stands with him during the siren. He also fell in love with the successes of the country. "But now as I am getting older, I realize it is more complicated than that. I like kosher chicken, but not the fact that the Rabbinate in Israel is Orthodox and decides how you can marry or how you can divorce. Jewishness cannot be controlled by one person.
"I love the gift of power but power can be intoxicating," he added. "We survived for three thousand years and led humanity on so many levels, but not because we were the strongest, wealthiest or most powerful but because of the power of our values, ideas and innovations. We must ask, 'have you used power justly?' "I also love the collective loyalty and unity," he said. "But Israel has to make room for differences and ask how to make room for the 21 percent of the country that is not Jewish. "You know about this because Hadassah serves all Israelis equally. If you are going to be a democracy you have to make room for them.
"My love has evolved and today the primary engine of my love is for the Israel that can be. I ask myself every day, 'how am I a force for the Israel that it ought to be.'"
Hartman left the crowd with a blessing: "May you not sit on your laurels. Don't only feel great about your past but also be aspirational about the future. We need your aspirations for the next 100 years to achieve new heights." Thanking him, Reicin said, "As it says in the Torah, your words of Torah have made our hearts happy. You have enriched us and inspired us."