Israel: What’s happening here?

The Nation-State Law made us question whether there’s a place for us in the Jewish nation-state.

MARCHERS TAKE part in the Jerusalem Pride Parade this past Sunday, as a sign in the background proclaims ‘I have no other land' (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
MARCHERS TAKE part in the Jerusalem Pride Parade this past Sunday, as a sign in the background proclaims ‘I have no other land'
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
‘If you will it, it is no dream,” said our very own Theodor Herzl. “The Jews who will it,” he famously elaborated, “shall achieve their state. We shall live at last as free men on our own soil, and in our own homes peacefully die. The world will be liberated by our freedom, enriched by our wealth, magnified by our greatness. And whatever we attempt there for our own benefit will redound mightily and beneficially to the good of all mankind.”
Inspiring words, indeed. So... 70 years later, how are we doing?
Pondering the question last night, I dreamed, too. Of Bibi. He was sitting on a low wall, with his lady wife, licking ice cream. Behind him the waters of his swimming pool (paid for by my taxes) gleamed, Zuma-style. I turned to tell my prime minister about my supermarket malfunction, but he’d melted like the pistachio confectionery in his cone.
Mega Ba’ir is on the corner of my street; it’s clean, it’s convenient and I always shop there. Since the Deposit Law, the supermarket is a stop for me on the way to heaven; I drop a couple of beer bottles and an empty kiddush wine off each week and pop the cash into a charity box. For years two plastic containers stood side by side; one with Arik Einstein’s iconic face over the logo of his children’s charity; the other a bearded individual with lots of pious-looking inscriptions and menorot.
But now Arik has disappeared and the rabbi has become fruitful and multiplied. He’s everywhere; today the only charity in my Kfar Saba branch is his. Now, even if I hadn’t seen a TV exposé on money boxes that end up at the end of alleyways in Safed in the pockets of bearded men blessed with many, many kids, I still wouldn’t donate my money there. Call me petty over a few shekels a week, but it’s my charity, and my choice, no? So is it fair that my options are the rabbi or the rabbi?
I wanted to articulate this angst to the leader of my country: It’s not the charity box on the checkout counter. That’s just a metaphor for the craziness flying here. As one of my friends texted recently, after the pictures of the honorable MK Oren Hazan in yet another spectacular selfie: “Israel, WTF?”
Really, Bibi, Israel: WTF?
In a week straight out of a Monty Python movie, Conservative rabbi Dov Hayun was hauled from his bed and interrogated for marrying couples in Haifa. Reform rabbi Micky Boyden took the municipality of Hod Hasharon to court for consistently holding up building permits for Kehilat Yonatan’s synagogue. Shas MK Yinon Azoulay claimed that Reform Jews, “who are not Jews,” triggered God’s wrath and caused the recent earthquake in the Kinneret. Welcome to Israel, the nation-state.
The Nation-State Law marginalized 20% of our citizens, infuriating our Arab citizens, including the loyal Druze and Bedouin who fight so bravely to support us, and strengthening our haredi brethren who don’t. It alienated even more Diaspora Jews, and non-Orthodox ones here, already seething over our prime minister’s Kotel prevarications. And it did something super-scary to those of us living here who do not fervently believe that the Holy One, blessed be He, has the plot so perfectly on track: It made us question whether there’s a place for us in the Jewish nation-state.
As we watched our democracy and sanity erode, we looked for news. We read about Israel’s gay men who, in the same week, were informed that they don’t deserve to be parents. Isn’t this the country that prides itself on Gay Pride? Don’t we market ourselves as the destination for people of all sexualities? What do we mean? Only if they’re childless? Welcome to Israel, the nation-state.
In 2018 a “Best Countries Ranking” placed us at the top of the list of countries perceived to be the most religious in the world. Saudi Arabia was No. 2. In third place was Iran. “Rubbish!” said my hairdresser’s assistant, as he sloshed color onto my roots. “Can you drive here? Do you wear jeans?”
“Well, yes,” I’d have to say – but in Beit Shemesh my jeans would have a mob of screaming loonies storming after me, tzitzit flapping in the wind, their constantly repressed hormones going wild. Is this the future of our Jewish state? Oy.
JUST OVER 40 years ago, when our country was barely out of adolescence, I made the spiritual leap out of the fleshpots of exile, to live in this-land-is-ours-God-gave-this-land-to-me. Of course, I missed the swimming pools and clean, clean beaches, the maids and sane drivers. But the “Hatikvah” moments – Look! The bus driver’s wearing a kippa! – and the sense of being part of the greatest miracle of the millennium were ample compensation.
Now, in my old age, epiphanies seem silly. Religious coercion has hit us too hard; every family seems to have ghastly stories of corrupt rabbis and implacable enemies in the religious authorities.
And the cultish feeling is proliferating. A few nights ago, on a beautiful balmy Jerusalem evening, I had dinner on the pavement of trendy Emek Refaim Street. Brooke Shields served us, dressed in a ubiquitous long, swishing skirt. What I noticed about her, apart from her beauty and lack of English, was that she kissed the mezuzah every single time she passed through the doorway, even when balancing a tray of drinks. At one point we called her back to change our order; she’d hardly kissed her way through the door. She re-kissed the sacred space, letting her hand linger in the air for the inward-bound smooch. She confided that she even kisses the toilet doorpost each time she needs the little room, even though there is no mezuzah on the lintel of a loo. “I can’t manage without it,” she said, “It’s my lifestyle.”
It recalled an ancient TV skit where Keren Mor kisses a mezuzah on leaving a room. Two steps away, she looks around furtively and backtracks for a more amorous encounter. She soon flattens herself against the doorpost, getting progressively heated, till she is well-nigh orgasmic with God’s signature of a Jewish home.
Today Miri Regev would ban that episode or fire Mor. Welcome to the Jewish Nation-State.
Is this what living in the middle of the Middle East does to us – makes half of us cultists, the other half antisemites? Jews have traditionally borne beacons of sanity and light: Helen Suzman, Albert Einstein, Betty Friedan. What’s happened to us here?
I wish Bibi hadn’t disappeared out of my REM sleep; I wanted his vision of our future. Is it exclusively one of men in white shirts and women under wraps who support the Bennett-Shaked-Regev triumvirate? Helmed, forever and ever amen, by one eternal leader? Where secular, liberal, non-tzitzitwearing citizens are extinct, except maybe huddled on the last mixed-swimming beach in Tel Aviv? Israel: WTF? 
The writer lectures at Beit Berl College and the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya. [email protected]