Israeli society suffers from a solidarity deficit

It’s time to recapture the spirit that built this country. It’s time that the word Zionism stopped being perverted to serve the interests of narrow and extreme minorities.

By GARY COHEN
July 29, 2011 16:18
Elderly Israelis wait to vote at a polling station

Elderly Israelis wait to vote at a polling station.. (photo credit: Reuters)

Agood friend of mine is mourning the loss of her elderly neighbor. David lived upstairs from her in Ramat Gan. His body was only discovered after my friend complained about a smell in the communal stairwell. It turned out that David had died about two weeks previously, but nobody knew. My friend feels guilty that she didn’t notice. She feels responsible in some way. She fails to understand how in this day and age, it’s possible for someone to be so alone that such a thing can happen.

What does it say about Israel today, when in a reasonably comfortable building in a leafy suburb, it takes two weeks to realize a man has died? What kind of society have we created? On a tangent, I was driving past the Ra’anana junction with my father recently.

He commented that the trempiada (hitchhiking stop) had been closed. Established by volunteers in 1982 during the first Lebanon war, it had been a welcome oasis, providing drinks and sandwiches to hitchhiking soldiers making their way to and from the front. This got me thinking about the time when hitchhiking soldiers were a common sight. As a soldier, I remember catching a lift with many a driver, all of them only too happy to help me out. As a driver, I have always been keen to stop and give someone a lift, perhaps in an attempt to return the favor.

Alas, today soldiers are not allowed to hitchhike, and the country is much the worse for it. When our young men and women were out on the streets for all to see, in a manner of speaking they were our kids. We felt obliged to help out, and were happy to do so. Whether we had served or not, we felt connected, part of something bigger than ourselves. We didn’t stop to think, what is in it for us? We saw it as an integral part of living in this country.

As the need to ferry our young heroes across the nation disappeared, so, apparently, did the need to worry about anything but ourselves. Today the obsession with self permeates Israeli society. At the top of the socioeconomic ladder, the few who control so much of the wealth continue their obsession with acquiring the little they don’t already own, regardless of the cost in all its guises to the rest of the country. Alarmingly the government is all too willing to assist them in this pursuit. In the Knesset, where MKs are supposed to represent all the people, special-interest groups think nothing of holding the country to ransom to advance their own agendas, regardless of the impact on their fellow citizens.

Hanging on by their fingernails, the middle classes who are being squeezed so hard from all angles find they have little time for others as they struggle to pay the rent or the mortgage and battle against the ever-increasing cost of living.

The poor and disenfranchised feel as if they have less and less of a stake in society, so they think only about survival in a harsh and uncaring society that has abandoned them. It is no wonder that they have little time or sympathy for foreign workers and refugees, who find themselves at the bottom of this collapsing society that today is anything but civil.



Our young look at the society they are supposedly going to inherit and wonder about the point of it all. What role models can they hope to emulate? What future should they expect? What is their incentive to serve in the army if, as they see it, Israel today is all about looking out for “No. 1”?

It’s true that many of these problems are common throughout the developed world, but Israel is no ordinary country. Indeed, perhaps it’s our obsession with becoming an ordinary country that has led us astray. We need to take a serious look at ourselves and decide what we want to be, because (in case you hadn’t noticed) we already have a host of very grown-up problems to deal with.

I do not crave times gone by for the sake of nostalgia. I just believe that in our race to “progress,” we have discarded some of the best things about us. These elements need to be reintroduced for the 21st century.

It’s time to recapture the spirit that built this country. It’s time that the word Zionism stopped being perverted to serve the interests of narrow and extreme minorities. True Zionism is about ensuring a Jewish democracy for all its citizens, where the values and traditions that represent the best of Judaism direct our actions and behavior to the betterment of humanity. Israel is a small country living under difficult circumstances, with a diverse, multifaceted character. We need each other in order to flourish. If so few succeed while the majority can only struggle to survive, we will all fail. If we work together, with success for all as a genuine goal, there is no end to what we can achieve. For such achievements to mean something, however, they have to serve society as a whole.

The erosion of our core values and of our civil society is not irreversible, but it must be addressed. It may take our leaders some time to catch up and understand that they work for us, and not the other way around. They will no doubt need to be pushed. However, we all have a part to play. For starters, we can pay more attention to what goes on around us and how events affect others. It may not sound like a great deal, but you’d be surprised how much can be achieved with just a little.

No more people like David should die alone.

The writer is an award-winning documentary filmmaker and writer. He also works as a communications and TV consultant. He is currently working with MK Isaac Herzog on his campaign for the Labor Party leadership.


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