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August 17, 2016 6:35 am

What Europe Could Learn From Israel

avatar by Judith Bergman

The morning after the November Paris attacks. Photo: Wikipedia.

The morning after the November Paris attacks. Photo: Wikipedia.

If there is one thing at which Jews have traditionally excelled, it is adapting. Throughout history, Jews have managed to adapt to often overwhelmingly negative circumstances, while constantly maintaining and developing their culture. This ability to adapt occasionally gave way to an irresistible temptation among Jews to blend in with their surroundings and to stop actively practicing Judaism.

Nevertheless, this flexibility of mind and spirit — coupled with a basic willingness to endure and to work hard to improve — is one of the many factors behind the deeply innovative character and resilience of Israeli society.

A flexible society will not break when subjected to pressure, even overwhelming pressure. Whereas a society that is very rigid and set in its ways will often feel defeated at the onset of real trouble. This can result in denial of said trouble and/or in the gradual breakdown of a society.

Israelis possess great flexibility and an ability to react to circumstances on the ground without questioning what the correct procedure might be or what others may think of them. Take one example: Recently, a female passenger collapsed and lost consciousness on an Egged bus in Haifa. The driver was informed that an ambulance could be dispatched, but it would take about 20 minutes. Instead of waiting for the ambulance, the bus driver decided to act on his own. He closed the doors and sped off to the Rambam Medical Center, with all his passengers still on board. The driver reported to the emergency room that he was on his way with a patient and the hospital’s resuscitation team was ready for the collapsed passenger when she arrived.

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This is actually not such a rare occurrence in Israel. A friend told me that only a few days earlier he had been on a bus in Jerusalem when the same thing had happened, except the bus driver had first let off all the other passengers before continuing to the hospital with the ill passenger.

While love of one’s fellow man and an admirable sense of responsibility for the ill passenger were the motivating factors here, they were not the only factors. The bus driver was able to think outside the box and to set the right priorities for himself. He did not care about sticking to the bus schedule or whether his other passengers would get annoyed — instead, he quickly adapted to the situation and did the right thing.

The bus driver’s potentially lifesaving reaction is of course a relatively insignificant example in the grand scheme of things, but I mention it because this example represents the greater adaptability and flexibility displayed in Israeli society. The ability to act with little or no hesitation, come what may, and to do “the right thing,” especially under pressure.

Most Western European countries are under tremendous pressure at this time from a number of sources, chief among them the wave of migrants from the Middle East and Africa and the growing terror threat. Europe is not used to this kind of pressure and, for many among the European establishment, the preferred strategy is that of denial. This manifests itself most clearly in attempts to classify terrorists as “mentally ill,” lone wolves or both — anything to avoid the obvious conclusion.

In other parts of Europe, societal breakdown is de facto accepted: For example, there are certain suburbs of Paris, France and Malmo, Sweden that police can scarcely enter. Clearly, these strategies are not working, but Europe is not able to adapt to the new reality, because it refuses to acknowledge the full extent of its consequences for the continent. This leaves Europe like a deer caught in the headlights, unable and unwilling to act.

Europe could learn a lot from Israel, but instead, it is too busy vilifying and boycotting the Jewish state.

Judith Bergman is a writer and political analyst living in Israel. This article was originally published by Israel Hayom.

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