“Happy days are here again. The skies above are clear again. Let’s sing a song of cheer again. Happy days are here again.”
This song became Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s theme during his 1932 campaign for the US presidency. It was a reflection of a mood that lyricist Jack Yellen and composer Milton Ager tried to reflect, pretending that the Great Depression of 1929 had ended – although in actuality hard times for Americans lasted substantially longer.
We in Israel, despite the storm clouds all around, act as if “the skies above are clear.” And, if we are not singing a “song of cheer,” it would seem that our overall good mood is less an expression of reality than one of denial, as we try to avoid difficulties by burying our heads in the sand. Such an attitude is understandable.
For too many years, we have been plagued by existential concerns for the life of the Jewish people, and we live in a constant state of fear. It is not enough that we have every reason to be frightened to death, our political leaders prey upon this fear, scaring the hell out of us to cling to power, leaving only them to deal with whatever awaits us over the horizon.
We seem prepared to tolerate almost any absurdity that our ministers utter or institute. We have entered a new phase in our existence, turning a blind eye to social, political, diplomatic, moral and even military problems, just as long as they do not disrupt our personal lives. No matter a looming third intifada, a threatening nuclear Iran, possible assaults by Hizbullah and/or Hamas, internal strife with Israeli Arabs, continued abuses of human rights, the undermining of democratic freedoms by Avigdor Lieberman, Eli Yishai and their anti-libertarian cohorts, the steady increase of a theocratic rule, our alienation of friends – we forge on as if all is right in our world.
We have turned inward, shunning collective responsibility. Yes, we have managed to establish many volunteer organizations to help the needy and the disenfranchised, no longer relying on our government agencies to help the marginalized in our society. Our economy has not been hit as hard as other Western countries. Our medical research and military industry are internationally enviable, and if one wants to know why little Israel is a world center of hi-tech and entrepreneurship, just read Saul Singer’s and Dan Senor’s uplifting book Start-Up Nation
. Why shouldn’t we be self-satisfied?
DURING PASSOVER, apart from the 200,000 Israelis who vacationed abroad, 500,000 occupied every hotel room in the country, filled national parks, crowded beaches, packed coffee shops and restaurants. Roads were one huge traffic jam. It seemed no one had a care in the world. Maybe it was hope of extending the calm before what we know will be the upcoming tempest. We have faced so many adversities in the short time since we have become an independent nation that we have developed a healthy resiliency. While one would expect that the current challenges we face would elicit a national malaise, instead it has fostered an Ecclesiastian view of life: “A man has no better thing under the sun than to eat, drink and be merry, for that shall abide with him all the days of his life, which God gives him under the sun” (8:15).
We Israelis need a reprieve from the doom and gloom that fill virtually every newspaper article and every opinion piece. Our newscasts overwhelm us with foreboding reports of imminent catastrophe, and our news reporters, in their usual hyped-up fashion, see tragedy around every corner.
But the fact of the matter is that we do have a host of overwhelming issues that we must face, and we are very much on the verge of getting a jolt of reality. Sooner rather than later we will realize that there is little psychological comfort passing on to governmental surrogate arbiters the responsibility to contend with these daunting problems, especially when ineptitude dominates the political scene from the prime minister down.
It is time that we take control over our lives. Continuing to adopt a laissez-faire approach is at its core naïve. Complacency is antithetical to our national character. By doing nothing, the problems enveloping us will haunt us. Admittedly, reengaging is not easy. After all, we have been sufficiently burned over the last number of years by some events of our own making and others justifiably not. All the while, it seems that whatever we do invites international condemnation, often unfair and unbalanced, and subject to double standards.
We also face an intransigent Palestinian Authority, which has been offered far-reaching compromises that should have yielded an end to the conflict despite the seemingly interminable rift between Fatah and Hamas, which world peacemakers conveniently ignore. Add to this the second intifada, the Second Lebanon War and the war in Gaza, and is it any wonder that we Israelis claim there is nothing we can do to alter the mess we are in?
AT LEAST half the country is satisfied with the status quo, but the other half is terribly disturbed by the direction our politicos are leading us. It is time to take the bull by the horns and stop acting like ostriches; otherwise, we will have only ourselves to blame when calamity strikes.
It was one lone reserve soldier, Moti Ashkenazi, who began a protest movement against the failures of the Yom Kippur War that eventually brought down prime minister Golda Meir’s government and initiated the Agranat Commission. It was president Yitzhak Navon who urged the establishment of the Kahan Commission to examine the Sabra and Shatilla massacres, as 400,000 Israelis demonstrated in Tel Aviv’s city square against the ill-conceived First Lebanon War. The Four Mothers movement forced the government, 18 years later, to withdraw from Lebanon. When the attacks on prime minister Yitzhak Rabin became so inflammatory, reaching their climax in Jerusalem’s Zion Square (where our present prime minister appeared), Tel Aviv’s city square (later named for Rabin) was lined with Israelis in support of his far-reaching peace initiative.
Despite our much deserved wish that the “skies above will be clear,”
they won’t be unless we join not only those protesting Palestinian home
seizures in Sheikh Jarrah, the confiscation of Palestinian lands
throughout the West Bank, extended curfews, continuing blockades of
humanitarian aid, unnecessary inhumane checkpoints; but also
adventurous foreign policies that distance our friends and, God forbid,
may lead us to a premature war with Iran.
We deserve “happy
days” and “songs of cheer.” But they will only descend upon us when we
resurrect the independent spirit of Moti Ashkenazi and the Four Mothers
and awaken a dormant Peace Now movement – thereby extricating our heads
from the sand.The writer is a Reform rabbi, author, lecturer and ongoing contributor to
The Jerusalem Post Magazine