a holocaust survivor wears a yellow Star of David on his jacket during a ceremony marking Holocaust Remembrance Day at Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Since the Jewish uprisings for independence against the Roman rule of the land were stifled, the capture of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple, Jewish communities were scattered across the globe, where Jewish lives didn’t always matter. In Arab and European lands, in North and Latin America, everywhere inhabited by Jews, we were dependent on the good or ill will of others.
We mark Independence Day a week after recalling the Holocaust, the worst atrocity in Jewish history, possibly in human history. However, Jewish life as dependents in the Diaspora was not always marked by so much tragedy and pain. On the contrary. Life in the Diaspora was often safe, neighborly, and economically and culturally rich. Such was the experience of my own family in Boujad, a small town at the foothills of the Atlas Mountains in Morocco. The Jewish community we belonged to in the mellah (the walled Jewish quarter of the town) had been sheltered against all forms of violence and harassment, and Jews were fully integrated into all strands of life in the country. Consequently many Muslims – including King Mohammed VI himself – are nostalgic about Jewish and Muslim coexistence in Morocco, where the synagogue and the mosque of the town usually share the same wall.
Whether persecuted or prosperous, living as dependents is never truly free. It is only when the struggle against the British Mandate culminated in the recommendation of UNSCOP (the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine) to recognize a Jewish state in the land west of the Jordan and its adoption by the UN General Assembly in 1947, the Declaration of Independence in 1948, a decisive victory in a war with our neighbors and admission into the UN, that we could finally be free.
That freedom enabled us to create a great country harboring significant scientific and artistic innovation, a dynamic market, a strong army, a growing population that successfully continues to absorb waves of Jewish immigration from across the world every year – and all remarkably executed in the Hebrew language that rose up from the ashes of history. The Jewish State is undoubtedly the most successful case of nation building in the postwar era. Looking at our short record of independence and the hurdles we’ve crossed, the future feels like a gift just waiting to be unwrapped.
An independent nation, however, is comprised of dependent citizens. The Talmud instructs us that kol yisrael arevim zeh bazeh (all of Israel is responsible for and dependent upon each other). That is true on the battlefield, where we defend our borders, but it is equally true within these same borders. The gift of the future and that of independence cannot be celebrated without solidarity.
There are more than a million poor children in Israel, of which one in 10 lives on one meal a day. For many parents simply sending their child to day care is an almost unbearable financial burden that reprises itself when that child wishes to earn a college degree. These children and parents deserve more solidarity. There are countless abuses in the job market: more than a fifth of workers live on the meager minimum wage; more than 10% of the workforce is employed through subcontracts, in terms that undermine their dignity and their rights; for the same work, female and male workers are not paid equally. Our workers deserve more solidarity.
Almost a million senior citizens, including Holocaust survivors, cannot live on their pensions. Many of them are doomed to harsh poverty. The old, the ill, the disabled – there are hundreds of thousands among us that cannot rely on our government to provide them the most essential social and economic safety net. They too deserve more solidarity.
We enjoy one of the strongest growth rates in the OECD. We are producing wealth per capita similar to Italy and Cyprus. Yet, this is overshadowed by our leading place in the poverty and inequality charts. This is not the result of fate – this is a direct derivative of policy choices.
As a candidate for the leadership of the Labor Party, I believe that we can change course for the better. Unlike almost 2,000 years when our people were in exile and without a government of our own, we can now make the policy changes to build a society on foundations of solidarity and mutual responsibility. We now depend exclusively on one another.
The writer is a veteran Knesset member, former deputy prime minister, defense minister and minister for environmental protection. He is also the former leader of the opposition and chair of the Labor Party, as well as head of the Histadrut labor federation, and mayor of his hometown, Sderot.