Sugar is addictive and bad for us; it rots teeth and weighs heavy on hips. Still, there is an indisputable thrill to being pelted with candies, especially yummy ones that can be gathered up and gobbled.
Recently, at a family birthday dinner, I felt like a bar mitzvah boy on the bimah, as my grandchildren hurled pink and white confectionary at my head in recognition that I was officially one year further away from my birth.
We had chosen a child-friendly spot in the center of Tel Aviv, just minutes from the buzz and the bars of Dizengoff. I was grateful for the love, and for joints that still flex, and for eyes that can still see, sort of, with the help of spectacles. As I suppose I enter old age, I’m quite amazed, actually, to be around at all; I feel so blessed to be surrounded by family.
I looked around the table, from under my garland of flowers, and I have to admit to having a fluttering “Hatikva” moment. Israel has been good to us: the children are educated, thriving and – tfu tfu tfu! – productive, upstanding citizens. They dream in Hebrew and clean for Passover: their lives circle around the rhythm of the Jewish year.
There is certainly what to celebrate. Tel Aviv pulsated around us; the start-ups and the shows, the energy and the fun, the beaches and the bars. A mellowness descended as I sipped my Chardonnay, and it wasn’t only from the wine.
And then, a few days later, around the corner from where my babies had chucked the chocolates, a terrorist, on a mission from hell, scattered bullets into a bar, mowing down anyone who happened to be there then. In the random mayhem he murdered three beautiful young men, full of goodness and hope, who should have had many decades of love and laughter ahead.
The senseless, barbaric, unbearable attack left the country reeling, as did the terrorist rampages that had hit us in the preceding days. Where, we wondered, would we find the strength to cope, once again, with the panic that hits when kids can’t be contacted; with the questions of whether to risk an espresso out, or make do with an instant in our kitchen? Even the fanciest machine at home can’t replicate the relaxation of a pavement café; were we back to feeling brave whenever we ventured out?
Israel is chock-full of peaceful coexistence: one of the policemen who killed the terrorist in Bnei Brak was an Arab who died in the gunfight; Arab doctors in Israeli hospitals fought to save victims’ lives. There are educational initiatives and business initiatives and ecological, political and legal cooperation where Arabs and Christians and Jews meet, eat and work together without whipping out guns or knives and harming each other. And then – boom! These terrorists shoot up the streets and shoot up the peace of mind; people start fearing each other and badmouthing the other and hating each other’s guts.
And we are tired. For years now we haven’t really relaxed; COVID has done a number on our psyches. We can’t travel like we used to; our friends are coming from abroad and then they get sick; plans are never plans anymore. The news of Ukraine is horrible and endless; we are sick to our stomachs at the state of the world. We don’t have much strength for more deep breathing and more coping strategies, but we gird our loins and grip our nerves and hug our babies and try not to collapse: what choice do we have?
And we will cope. This wave of terrorism will pass, and this wave of the pandemic will pass, and the next, and the next. We will endure.
BUT THEN, in the midst of the mourning, the right wing rallied in Jerusalem. This was the time, punkt (precisely) in the panic, when Benjamin Netanyahu decided to make his comeback. MK Idit Silman, an unimportant yet crucial political player, had defected into his arms; he could already see Sara tucking into her pistachio ice cream back in Balfour.
And there he was, our eternal King of Israel, his sweating, jeering, beaming face filling our TV screens like in times of yore, screeching that “this government is weak, they are weaklings, halashim; they are weak.” Once more this leader of the land was exhorting half the country to hate the other half.
Yes, we can cope with terrorism. We can cope with pain. But can we cope with a would-be prime minister who whips us into a frenzy of hatred against our own government, who thrives on dividing and ruling? Again he’s going to turn half the country into traitors? Again anyone who doesn’t like him will be branded as bad? Do we have the strength for his love of the hatred he creates?
Are the terrorists going to bring back Miri Regev and her rants, and the suave Smotrich and Ben-Gvir? Are we in for more years of stirring and stirring and stirring up dissension and dismay? Is our government of hope, our still-so-young coalition of change, really not going to grow into all the good and healing plans it has started: better transport, better economic planning, better medicine and education and, equally fantabulous, more civil public discourse?
Are the terrorists shooting us into another election? Are they catapulting us back into the embrace of Bibi and his crew?
Woe is us if that’s the case. How will we endure that? ■
The writer lectures at Reichman University and Beit Berl College. [email protected]