We were sitting on the stone wall across from our apartment in our peaceful Jerusalem neighborhood late on a Friday night. All was quiet. I commented on the geographic irony of the situation. Violent riots, exploding bombs only a few kilometers away, yet here we felt and heard nothing.
"It must have been like this in Europe before the war," she said. "People were just living their lives, unable to believe that a catastrophe was around the corner. Those who stayed didn't want to give up their homes, their lives."
Her words aroused a twinge of fear for a second, until I realized that the situations were not equal.
I told my friend, who is not Jewish, that leaving Europe and leaving Israel were not equivalent. That I actually was more certain than I had thought a moment before about the answer to her question. No, we would not leave. This country was created so that Jews would never have to leave anywhere ever again. What would be the point of a Jewish State if I were to pick up and leave it the moment things got dangerous? What about all the sacrifices, the blood spilt to ensure that the Jews had a haven? How could I betray all that?
When she first asked the question, it was as if I had momentarily forgotten my values. I felt as if the larger culture was acting on me without my awareness: the culture prevalent in the U.S. and much of the Western world that puts the individual's needs and comforts first.
And if we forget, will our children ever know it?
Those of us who are religious have an easier time addressing society's corroding values. Those whose lives are based in Torah have their values and purpose spelled out for them and their children. Those of us who are not religious will have to make a focused effort to imbue our kids with the value that there is something greater than our individual lives, a purpose worth living for--and dying for.
Children of English-speaking immigrants have been raising this question lately: "Mommy, if there is a war, will we go to America (or England, or Australia)?"
If our answer is no, we can use their questions and the terrible situation in which we find ourselves to teach or reinforce our values. We can talk about what it means to have a purpose that is greater than our own desires, even than our own lives. We have to assure our children that we will take care of them, that their safety will be in our hands.
But we can also let them know that a meaningful life is one that is lived not just for ourselves but for a greater purpose. With our words and our actions, we can help them resist the powerful tide that is pulling us all toward the worst of the modern world.