Guest Columnist: I am not alone

ByEMILY LEVY SHOCHAT
December 17, 2010 15:24

There are millions of Israelis who feel like I do and I want them to stand up and be heard.




A scene from an episode of ‘Haredim’

haredi crowds 311. (photo credit:Courtesy)

Iam not alone. Not in my attachment to Israel – the country which my family and I chose to live in almost 35 years ago – nor in my deep concern for the future of this marvelous country.

I am not alone in my recognition of the great things which have been accomplished and that continue to be done, nor in my disappointment about those critical things which should have been done, but were not.

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I am not alone in my belief that we have a political system that can do better for the country, nor in my desire to impact that system so that it better serves the principles of a democratic and Jewish state.

I am not alone in dedicating time and resources toward strengthening that state although I understand that there will never be a clear, noncontroversial definition of what a “democratic and Jewish state” is.


I am not alone in my perception that we are at a tipping point, that an opportunity for change for the better is at hand, nor in my frustration that the disparate efforts toward this improvement have not yet found the strength in unity.

No, I am not alone, but I am also not yet part of the critical mass needed to save the country from turning into an almost democratic state, an almost home for all Jews – the almost central address for the Jewish people.

FREEDOM OF religious expression and religious pluralism is the major area of concern for me at this time. That may not be surprising, as I am the chairperson of the Masorti (Conservative) Movement in Israel, but my concern is not parochial. My concern is for the very essence of our country – a country defined as the homeland for the Jewish people, but one in which not all Jews are respected and treated equally.

We all understand that within the complexities of our political reality, religion has been sadly politicized, and that disproportionate power is exercised today by fundamentalist forces that test daily the extent to which they can control our society. The attempt to invalidate conversions performed within the IDF, the Barzilai Medical Center emergency room “scandal,” the daylight saving time controversy, the conversion bill currently before the Knesset and prejudiced rulings on marriage and divorce are just a few of the issues which affect us daily. And what about those that are more subtle but no less restrict our freedoms and rights?

What do I want? That the millions of Israelis who feel as I do let it be publicly known. We must protect our country from becoming a homeland that is nothing more than a fundamentalist- controlled shell, where the vast majority of the Jewish people is not really at home.

We are often described as an apathetic society. Apathy means not caring. That is not the case. “Tired,” “burned out,” “feeling a lack of hope” is more accurate. Paradoxically, the caring is so deep, and the reality so frustrating and frightening, that many are somehow paralyzed.

It can be different. In just the last six months we have seen several examples where an active public response achieved some success: A massive public outcry influenced the prime minister to find a solution to the Ashkelon emergency room situation; reactions and pressure exerted by Israeli and Diaspora leaders led to the prime minister’s decision to work toward an acceptable solution regarding the conversion bill; public response to the so-called “avrechim” student stipend bill led to its reevaluation and next year’s daylight saving time might end later thanks to the strong reaction to the waste and cost of an early date for starting standard time.

We – the increasingly disenfranchised – can make a difference. We come from almost every sector of society – secular to modern Orthodox, veterans to new immigrants, well off to less well off. We have tremendous potential power. If we exercise it, we can succeed. If not, a heavy price will be paid.

What can we do? Simple enough: exercise our basic rights as citizens. Let our elected leaders – on the municipal and national levels – know what we want and what will lead us to support them. Vote in primaries. Vote in national elections. Get out to the streets to support demonstrations on issues we care about.

We are still a democracy, and the only way we will remain one is by exercising the precious rights guaranteed us as citizens of a democratic state.

The writer is the chairperson of the Masorti Movement in Israel.

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