The holiday of Shavuot provided a pleasant respite from the excessive excitement of this country.
Instead of the usual drone of disaster and dispute in the media, there were tasty festivities heavy on cheese filled caseroles topped off with cheese cake.
The relative quiet, for everything but my aging arteries, was only for a day. The media and generators of e-mail more than made up for it by the early morning of the day after.
OECD had produced a report on poverty among its member states that Israel media headlined as saying Israel was "the poorest of OECD countries."
Saner reports indicated that Israel scored last "among developed countries" on one measure of poverty, due to a high incidence of Haredim and Arabs not in the labor force. On the measure of income per capita, OECD members scoring poorer than Israel are Turkey, Slovenia, Portugal, Hungary, Greece, Poland, Mexico, Slovakia, Czech Republic, and Spain.
The report that Israel was the poorest of OECD members echoed in the demands of politicians and activists that the Knesset make significant changes in the budget that was approved by the government. The Minister of Welfare agreed with some of these proposals, but also made a thinly veiled return to the issue of the Haredim. He said that the budget must assure that individuals who refuse to work would receive no government benefits.
Another headline was that Israeli authorities were seeking approval of four West Bank "outposts," i.e., new settlements. Among the details are an existing court order to demolish one of the outposts on account of its being built on private Palestinian land. However, government officials are now claiming that the settlers purchased the land from its owners. Somewhere in the muddle are likely to be assertions about false claims of original ownership and forged documents having to be sorted out by a court, and Palestinian sellers who disappeared overseas in order to avoid retaliation. Activists on both sides are weighing in with their own views of the details, as well as assertions as to who ought to be living on that piece of Promised Land or Palestine.
There is also a warning coming from a "senior Israeli official" directed at the Assad government, about its encouragement or participation in attacks against Israel. Should anything like that occur, Israel would take steps to destroy the Assad regime. The immediate background was a statement by a Syrian minister saying that--on account of an Israeli attack on Syria--Palestinians are now free to attack Israel via the Golan Heights.
On the eve of the holiday some mortar shells landed on the upper reaches of the Israeli portion of Mt Hermon. They did no damage, but caused the IDF to close the area to tourists. The day after the holiday, a group claiming Palestinian and Islamic connections, but hitherto not known to Israeli authorities, said it was responsible for the attack.
Also from Syria were pictures--blurred our of respect for Israeli sensitivities--showing a rebel soldier eating the heart and liver of a Syrian soldier he had killed.
An item from the other side of Israel reminds us about chronic Egyptian trouble with the Bedouin living in what one paper termed "the lawless Sinai." Several of the Bedouin kidnapped a number of Egyptian security personnel, seemingly for the purpose of freeing colleagues being held in an Egyptian prison.
Not yet the stuff of the prominent media, but coming to my mailbox from a religious friend, was a proposal to deal with assimilation among Diaspora Jews by giving them the right to vote in Israeli elections. Within an hour of receiving the first item was a skeptical response from a distinguished member of Israel''s legal intelligentsia My own contribution raised issues of practicality, likely to spill over into well known disputes of high intensity. First of all, how would such a program deal with "Who is a Jew?" This will be problematic in Diaspora communities with high levels of intermarriage, and tenuous feelings of Jewish identity. Would such a proposal also require actions with respect to the Diasporas claiming lineage to the Arabs who once lived in this land? And how would the newly enrolled voters actually vote? Proponents ought to consider such practical stuff along with their concepts of "justice" and hopes of Jewish resurgence. Some of those proposing an outreach to Diaspora Jews might not welcome the enrollment of J-Street in the expanded electorate.
Before that squabble can be resolved is an ongoing campaign about who should be elected by the limited panel entitled to vote for one or another of the candidates politicking to be the Chief Ashkenazi and Chief Sephardi Rabbi. It seems exciting, but the code words used to advance or oppose one or another candidacy do not resonate clearly in my secular ears.
We are also reading about scandals affecting our patrons in Washington. Could there be implications of political turmoil coming out of the disaster in Bengazi, actions of the IRS against enemies of the White House, official meddling in the e-mails of journalists who were critical of the President, and a renewal of pro- and anti-abortion activism provoked by the trial of a physician on charges of murder?
All of the above reflect our return to normalcy, after programs featuring traditional music, commentary on the historic origins of Shavuot, and the variety of recipes used in Israel''s ethnic communities.
Better than today''s news would be the risks associated with another helping of cheese cake.