Recently we celebrated Israel’s 62nd birthday. As Jews we should never take for granted what a monumental event this is – to celebrate the birthday of a country that for all purposes should have never been redeemed and revived. Against all odds the modern State of Israel is a miracle and a dream come true. Though there are many reasons for this modern miracle one of them is summed up in a word – bitzuim.
Bitzuim, loosely translates as “getting the job done”! A Bitzu’ist is a pragmatist, someone who just makes things happen. And that is exactly how the state of Israel was reclaimed and what keeps it flourishing over six decades later. “To call someone a bitzu’ist is to pay him or her a high compliment,” writes author and Editor Leon Wieseltier. “The bitzu’ist is the builder, the irrigator, the pilot, the gunrunner, the settler. Israelis recognize the social type: crusty, resourceful, impatient, sardonic, effective, not much in need of thought but not much in need of sleep either.”
Bitzu’ism was at the heart of Israel’s revival and it is why Israel is leading the way technologically, entrepreneurially and economically. This is one of many important ideas found in Dan Senor’s book, “Start up Nation.” And perhaps the most startling and inspirational example he shares comes from Israel’s deserts.
Israel is, for all practical purposes, a large desert (95% of Israel being classified as such).
And yet Israel has managed to literally drive back the desert turning it into lush agricultural fields and planted forests. And in the desert they have discovered water buried deep beneath the surface, albeit not potable, too hot or salty to drink. Still, some bitzuits among them decided to have it pumped out, filled ponds and proceeded to commercially raise and export fish.
In essence, our desert dwelling brothers and sisters have become “fish farmers” in, of all places, the desert, not an easy or likely feat to say the least. Or, in the words of fish biologist Professor Appelbaum, “It was not simple to convince people that growing fish in the desert makes sense. But it’s important to debunk the idea that arid land is infertile, useless land.” That’s a bitzuist mentality and that is what we need to emulate back here at home.
Modern Judaism and American Jewish communities are desperately lacking this mentality of bitzuism. Yes, there are a handful of synagogues, Jewish institutions and Jewish communities around the country that are defying the odds but the vast majority of us have succumbed to the “we’ve always done it that way mentality.” The problem, however, is that the way we’ve always done it is no longer working. Our communities are floundering and many institutions, like our local JCC, are at an existential crossroads.
If there is going to be a viable and flourishing Jewish community here or elsewhere we are going to need to reclaim this sense of bitzuism, this work ethic in regards to our community, our institutions our leadership. We are, after all, living in a desert of a different kind and we are going to have to become fish farmers in our own right. As the old adage goes, “if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got.” What we’ve done is not working. It’s time to change direction, even roll the dice and set forth in bold and brazen new ways. It’s going to require of us bitzuim. We’ll have to become builders and irrigators, pilots and pioneers. But most of all it’s going to require that we convince our institutions, our fellow Jewish residents and members of this community that growing fish in the desert is possible and more importantly that it is what we must now set out to do.
It’s time to create a consolidated, streamlined, cohesive, affordable, sustainable and inspirational Judaism and Jewish community. It’s time to make the impossible, possible. It’s time to become fish farmers in the desert. So throw out your old ideas, your past attachments and your “we’ve always done it this way” limiting beliefs. Trade them in for a map, a shovel and a desert fish farmer mentality. So grab a shovel and bring your fishing gear cause we’re gonna grow fish in the desert and then we’re going to have a fish fry, so get ready to eat.
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