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A New Generation Fights to Dream in Israel

This is the challenge for our time. Grandpa Yitzhak and his generation taught us that dreams do not become reality and they don't turn into a country on their own. If we want them we'll have to fight.
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My grandfather Yitzhak died when I was 9, before I was able to ask him how to build a state. I so need that advice now. And whom shall I ask if not Grandpa Yitzhak, who was born in Tel Aviv in 1930, and fought in Israel's War of Independence. Grandpa Yitzhak who took me to his annual reunion where he introduced me to another Yitzhak -- Rabin -- and held my hand when we children looked up to those heroes who are so sorely missed now.

One year after my grandfather died, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated. His murder brought to an end the hopes of many of my generation. Rabin's story, spread all over the newspapers, got entangled in my grandfather's story. Although he loved his studies, Grandpa Yitzhak dropped out of school at the age of 14 to join with many others to build a country. "Only ignoramuses like us just went on our merry way to establish a state, without knowing what a state is," wrote Yoram Kaniuk in his book, "1948." I get goose bumps just thinking about the courage that was required to stand up and dare to take action, seemingly hopeless, with no recipe for success, for a mere dream.

Today our grandfathers and grandmothers, those who were born here or found refuge her from the western and eastern horrors, survive on a meager monthly stipend and watch as their extraordinary creation crumbles. But in the summer of 2011, just as privatization began to devour all that was good in our country, Grandpa Yitzhak's grandchildren dared to believe. A new generation stood up and swept with it parents and grandparents. We changed the conversation completely and for a moment it seemed that we had changed the state as well.

But that summer ended without the expected change. And a difficult year passed. Some gave up but many continued the fight. We established organizations, took a stand on social and economic issues, but also suffered setbacks. The most hurtful ones were within the protest movement, and emerged -- as always -- over questions of power: Who has the power and how will it be used? Sometimes, while trying to retain our purity, we ended up resembling the very essence of what we so wanted to change.

I have traveled throughout the country during the last few months, looking for partners who share my dream about the future of the state. From Eilat in the south all the way up to Kiryat Shmonah in the Galilee panhandle, the country is bustling with civic activism. But in one community after another, I found that one word spoils the mood: politics. "We can't dirty ourselves," people say, "we can't be part of them." Who are the "them" who invoke such a sense of distaste in us that we avoid confronting them in this critical public arena?

I am not willing to give up on this place. This is the challenge for our time. We did take over the parks and city squares, but important decisions are not reached on benches along leafy boulevards. They are made in the halls of power that our generation avoids entering. The responsibility we took upon ourselves during the summer must expand beyond the street. Grandpa Yitzhak's generation fought on the battlefield to establish the democratic state of Israel; our generation must fight the battle for its soul using their legacy: democracy. Our battlefield is the political arena.

This is a decision year. After a decade of despair, of shameless trading of our values and morals, of the state shrugging off its responsibility for its citizens, of destroying public services, we will prove that those processes are not a force of nature. That the cost of electricity, the price of tomatoes and income tax rates are not a heavenly decree. That education isn't a commodity and that legislation and national priorities are made by men and women. That dreams are not a privilege and prophecy isn't childish.

The 2013 election will shape Israel for a new generation. And the time has come for our generation to take its place at the table of power -- in local councils, in city halls, in the Knesset and in government. Grandpa Yitzhak and his generation taught us that dreams do not become reality and they don't turn into a country on their own. If we want them we'll have to fight.

Stav Shaffir, a leader for the Israeli tent protest movement, is presently a Labor Party candidate for the Israeli Knesset.

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