Fixing A Country Torn Apart? These Two Have Suggestions

Note: This is the fourth article of TC Jewfolk Editor Lonny Goldsmith’s trip to Israel with UpStart and iCenter’s “A Mifgash that Matters,” which is being put on in partnership with The Jewish Education Project and in collaboration with The Jewish Agency for Israel and made possible through support from the Jim Joseph Foundation. Read more: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

TEL AVIV – It can be easy to forget that before Oct. 7, there were more than 40 weeks of protests around the country, targeting the proposed judicial reforms of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But in the wake of Oct. 7, there was a more united spirit in many ways. For a time at least.

“There are real fault lines,” said Mishy Harman, the creator of “Israel Story” an award-winning podcast produced in partnership with The Jerusalem Foundation and The Times of Israel. “As we get further from the shock, people are settling back in.”

Harman and Ella Ringel, the founder and CEO of The Fourth Quarter, have been talking to Israelis from all across society for years. Their work has become more essential since Oct. 7. 

The Fourth Quarter was created in late 2022 as a way to address the fear of Israel falling apart. Ringel said the fourth quarter of a democracy’s first century is when its future is most tested; the U.S. Civil War started in the country’s 85th year. It’s happened in biblical-era Jewish history, too. Ringel said that David Ben-Gurion one of Israel’s founding fathers and the country’s first prime minister knew this could happen. Asked in 1949 whether he was satisfied with the country’s establishment, he reportedly said: “Talk to me in the country’s 70th year.”

In a conversation with a group of Jewish educators yesterday in Tel Aviv, moderated by Yehudit Werchow from the iCenter, Ringel said that people have to wake up and realize that a solution requires work from the collective of society. 

Ringel spoke about Surit Sussman, the mother of Ben Sussman, who was killed during his IDF service late last year. After his death, she became a part of the Fourth Quarter.

“She says ‘Ben didn’t die for us to fall apart,’” Ringel recalled.”The only thing I can do is change the way I talk, think, and the things I do.’

“She’s lost the most important thing she had and she’s not giving up. I think of her when I want to give up.”

Ringel said that research shows that ideologically, Israelis aren’t all that different, but the emotional difference is stark.

“We hate more,” Ringel explained simply. “In America, you disagree and you hate more. We argue about religion and democracy. It’s what’s allowed us to not make strategic decisions in 20 years.”

After Oct. 7, Harman created an offshoot of the Israel Story podcast called the “Wartime Diary,” which are shorter episodes that talk with people affected by Israel’s war against Hamas.

“My sense of optimism comes from talking to people of so many persuasions,” he said. “A person is a person is a person. That gives me hope. The most basic thing is we’re all here, and no one is going anywhere. That’s the story of everything.”

Harman said he’s also learned through his work how many different Israelis exist. 

“That of the farmer isn’t that of the Bedouin isn’t that of the Haredi,” he said. 

His pessimism, on the other hand, comes from some wanting to push a truth where so many are afraid of having a truth imposed on them.

“If we’re able to rethink, maybe we can get to trusting what our future could look like,” he said. 

Ringel said the fight for unity requires people being together.

“One thing I’ve learned is that everyone is very hurt. We’ve hurt one another in the past year, and every community believes they’ve given enough,” she said. “When you sit at the table and hear from different people, they don’t give up on themselves, but they hear others.”

Ringel talked about needing a “covenant of opposites.”

“We have to understand to create a new story,” she said. “The ultra-orthodox are part of that story. And Israeli-Arabs are part of the story.”