News in the modern world: The appearance vs. the reality

WHEN IS good news really good news?

RIVKA WITH THE four girls she mentors at their ESRA bat mitzvah party (for 22 girls) in June (photo credit: ORNA MEKONA)
RIVKA WITH THE four girls she mentors at their ESRA bat mitzvah party (for 22 girls) in June
(photo credit: ORNA MEKONA)
This past month has truly been a roller coaster.
The headline that stole the show was Israel’s normalization of relations with the United Arab Emirates, which somehow diverted the spotlight from the thousands of out-of-work protesters and the real possibility of yet another election. Suddenly our prime minister’s secret deal (secret, even, from Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi) turned him into a hero overnight. The feeling was enhanced when it was suggested that Sudan might be next on the list for making peace with Israel.
For 24 hours, front pages no longer carried pictures of demonstrations against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or statistics on the more than 800,000 unemployed. Nor were we, the public, constantly reminded (as if we needed reminding) of the rise in COVID-19 cases crowding hospitals to the breaking point.
Was an imminent peace with the UAE good news? Absolutely. How could anyone not rejoice in the knowledge that a vibrant affluent Arab state was about to make peace with us? That was until we learned – two days later – about a possible “secret” part of the deal enabling the United States to sell its super F-35 combat planes to the UAE.
Israel has consistently based its security calculations on having a qualitative military edge over its neighbors. Suddenly our PM was saying Israel would lobby the US Congress against the sale of F-35s to the UAE. Yet, according to Yediot Aharonot, an Emirati official confirmed that Netanyahu gave his approval to the arms deal between the US and UAE as part of the agreement to form Israeli-UAE diplomatic ties.
The Jerusalem press conference featuring Netanyahu and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo produced muddled messages. While Netanyahu kept to his story of F-35s not going to the UAE, Pompeo said, “The US has a legal requirement with respect of Israel’s qualitative military edge, which we will continue to honor. But we have a 20-plus year security relationship with the UAE as well... The US will review that process to see that we’re delivering them the equipment that they need to secure and defend their own people from this same threat [Iran]. I am confident that both objectives can be achieved.”
One can but hope that the UAE, once in possession of such cutting-edge weaponry, retains its current leadership – unlike what happened to our former ally Iran in the post-shah era.
What of the imminent peace deal between Israel and the Sudan? That “good news” failed to materialize, rejected emphatically by Sudan.
WHEN IS good news really good news?
Good news is when we hear of the positive contributions made by ordinary citizens of Israel. The reaction to the lockdown produced unlimited numbers of volunteers ready to help the elderly and sick.
The Ra’anana municipality, as did a number of other municipalities, called for volunteers to collect prescriptions from the pharmacy, buy groceries and deliver these necessities to the housebound. There was no shortage of volunteers willing to assist. These wonderful volunteers became a lifeline for many people living alone, arriving with the requisite medications, food and a smiling face, ready to have a chat while asking what further assistance they could give; this is good news.
Neighbors in apartment blocks turned into “nuclear families” ensuring those who live on their own would not be alone on a Friday night, something I personally appreciated, my husband having died just months before the lockdown. I felt the warmth and caring of my neighbors who became “my family.” This is good news.
Good news is when families discover they have the time and space to talk to each other personally, not just on their mobile phones. It proved to be a time of imaginative creativity. Parents with young children produced novel ways of occupying their offspring. One young family went on “holiday” to the “Kinneret.” (They erected tents in their garden, where they slept overnight, positioned around a pond that became the Kinneret.)
Numerous volunteer-based organizations pulled out all the stops to ensure life would continue in spite of the pandemic.
AUGUST 12 marked the United Nations International Youth Day, which this year focused on COVID-19. The UN produced a video featuring seven young women from various parts of the world who made a difference to their communities during the pandemic. How proud we were to learn that one of the seven was Rivka Shatta from Israel.
The Magazine, thanks to ESRA’s project chair Nina Zuck, met and spoke with Rivka, the eldest of seven children, all born here. Their parents came from Ethiopia in 1991 via Operation Solomon when, within 36 hours, 14,325 Ethiopian Jews were airlifted home.
Currently studying for her second degree in art therapy (her first was in informal education) Rivka is part of ESRA’s flagship “Students Build a Community” (SBC) program. This venture enables carefully chosen students to live rent-free in disadvantaged communities in exchange for mentoring kids on the block.
Rivka lives in Hefzibah, an economically deprived area of Netanya where the majority of residents are Ethiopian-Israelis. As an SBC student, she mentors four 12-year-old girls by helping them with their education while being a superb role model.
What did Rivka tell the world on International Youth Day?
She spoke of the challenge of mentoring her girls during COVID-19. Prevented from participating in their face-to-face meetings, Zoom and WhatsApp became the vehicles for the program’s continuity. Tablets, donated by ESRA (many are without computers), together with regular phone contact, resulted in successfully occupying and stimulating the children while enabling parents to continue working. Aside from her commitment to her kids, Rivka also delivers food parcels to those in need.
Rivka is a special person who in 2018 brought together six young women – today the number is 40 – to petition the local council to change unacceptable situations. Aside from sorting out local garbage collections, the group succeeded in transforming a local wooded area – previously a dark and dirty place attracting youngsters with drug problems – into a well-lit, beautiful park. Success was achieved by these volunteers knocking on the doors of the municipality’s department heads, refusing to rest until their objective had been achieved.
What drives Rivka? She says, “What motivates me is recognizing that small changes can lead to big changes, both for the individual and the community; to see the positive side of the neighborhood in which we live. My hope is that I will be a role model for young people, to show them by example that volunteering is a desirable and positive attribute.”
BACK TO the beginning. While an election in November has been averted, there is still every chance that we will slide toward a fourth election early next year. With no end to the pandemic in sight and an ever-increasing number of people out of work, what will we face in the coming 120 days without a national budget? Unfortunately, our health and education systems will continue to deteriorate.
Netanyahu broke the agreement he made with his coalition partners to produce a two-year budget, despite the fact that a two-year budget was the preferred choice of most economists. Sadly, it appears that he, in the midst of trial proceedings, is more concerned with saving his skin than saving the country.
He would do well to follow the example of those citizens whose prime concern is how they can create good news by helping others during this fateful period in Israel’s history.
The writer is public relations chairwoman of ESRA, which promotes integration into Israeli society. The views expressed are hers alone.