All lives matter

We really have to do better than this.

Jerusale mayor Nir Barkat announces he has registered to the Likud party in video message (photo credit: screenshot)
Jerusale mayor Nir Barkat announces he has registered to the Likud party in video message
(photo credit: screenshot)
Galiano Island, an hour’s ferry ride from Vancouver, is about as far from Israel as you can get. Traffic jams there mean two cars on the road; stress comes from wondering whether you’ll catch another glimpse of the whales cavorting in the waves on any given day. Not that there are many waves in that part of the Pacific; the bays surrounding the islands are predictably peaceful.
I recently heard a Canadian writer describing his homeland as a country in a coma; if that’s true, we should probably all knock ourselves out. Comas can be pretty.
Take the case of two drivers fighting for a parking place Canadian-style: each insisting that the other person got there first, and exhorting him to take the space. “Please, go in – it’s only right that you park here.” “No, Sir, you were here before me – please, it’s your spot.”
Can you imagine?
Traveling abroad always somehow makes me reevaluate being here, where the living is not always quite so easy. Not that everything is all that simple anywhere anymore. Even in North America Friday nights can be fraught: gorgeous gardens and organic pea soup don’t completely placate friends torn apart over whether Trump is good for the Jews or not, apart from whether he is good for anyone else. While I was in Manhattan, policemen were shooting blacks and being shot in Dallas and Baton Rouge; the Black Lives Matter movement was inevitably discussed over bagels and lox. But somehow these issues don’t seem quite as existential as ours do back home; I couldn’t quite wrap my thoughts around why this is so. And then one of my friends told a story.
He had sold a car recently, he related, to a black man who lived out of town. Money was handed over, papers were signed; the deal entailed taking possession the following day. Coffee was served, and my friend drove the buyer to the station. With only minutes until the train was scheduled to depart, he uncharacteristically sped through a no-entrance sign, to gain some precious time. America: instantaneously a cop switched on his warning lights and, sirens blazing, raced toward the car.
“I’m to blame,” said my friend, “I’ll deal with this infraction. You run and catch the train – if you wait you’ll miss it.”
“If I run for the train I’ll lose my life,” said the black man. “You run from a cop, he shoots you dead.”
That’s a terrible indictment for a society, for the rule of law, for fairness. But we are white; like it or not, we are not directly affected by this racism. Yes, it is awful to live in such circumstances, of course it is. Yes, we cringe to think our tax dollars are going to support inequality, of course we do. But we are not directly afraid of being shot. You know what I mean?
In Israel, however, the issues are our issues.
When an esteemed rabbi (Yigal Levenstein) derides homosexuals as perverts and hundreds of others support him, including the leading candidate for the position of IDF chief rabbi – it’s our children that are being mauled here, not the kids of another minority.
When Nir Barkat, the mayor of Jerusalem, declines to show solidarity for the gays in his constituency by marching in their parade, because he is kowtowing to Levenstein and Yishai Schlissel and their ilk, that’s us that he’s ignoring, and disappointing, and infuriating.
When religious members of Knesset overturn High Court rulings on mikve (ritual bath) use, deeming Reform and Conservative conversions unfit for public mikvaot and demanding separate “less kosher” ones be built for the “less holy” among us, that’s our people that they’re humiliating and our money that they’re wasting.
When the teeny-weeny inroad of teaching the core curriculum as a prerequisite to receiving state funds is reversed and English and maths are banished from haredi schools (which our taxes fund), that’s our economy that suffers, that’s our hard-earned cash that’s crashing up against craziness.
Israel is a tiny county. We know the strange equations: Canada’s Great White North has 563 lakes larger than 100 square kilometers; just the lakes in one area of the country take up some three times as much of God’s earth as the whole of Israel. More people live in New York City than in the whole of the Holy Land. Yet in this minuscule dot on the map in the middle of the Middle East, we fight and fuss and are much too fractured – and I’m not even talking about our external concerns.
On the same page of the July 16 Jerusalem Post, three headlines scream: One documents Rabbi Dov Lior’s exhortation to extremists to protest the pride parade; another highlights how Levenstein, the head of the Eli pre-military academy, described gays as “perverts” and Reform Judaism as “a Christian denomination”; a third headline proclaims that hassidic Rabbi Eliezer Berland has finally been extradited to Israel, after years of evading arrest, to face various charges of sexual abuse, including claims against him by a 15-year-old girl. Why isn’t Levenstein calling him a pervert?
I am always happy to come back to Israel; it’s home, it’s ours, it’s real and it’s great. I am not jealous of the big cars that North Americans drive, or their manicured gardens, or their thick, glossy weekend papers and their Sundays made for mellowing. (Well, perhaps just a bit jealous. A touch.) What does eat me up with envy though is that their leaders are condemning the craziness in their country with no overtones of ambiguity. Here the mayor of our capital chooses not to support a chunk of his constituents, preferring to appease extremists. Shame on Barkat; shame on us. We really have to do better than this.
Shabbat shalom to us all, whatever our proclivities.
The writer lectures at Beit Berl College and IDC Herzliya.