Over the years, my stunning students – engaged, sparkling, innovative, dedicated young men and women from Israel and abroad – have continually taught me many things. They show me how to work the sophisticated classroom media equipment, and explain AI tools like ChatGPT. But most of all, they remind me what it’s like to be fresh and unjaded and still sure that this is a wonderful world.
They are often officers, my students, and ladies and gentlemen. They’ve seen things that should not be seen; the speeches they deliver bang home the price, and the pain, of being part of ongoing conflict. They are pilots and tank commanders and snipers in the IDF; they train and are sent into the field to do what armies need to do. In real time, my students tell me, soldiers often use black humor to deal with what defending the country entails; only later does conscience kick in. Heads detached from bodies haunt sleepless nights; soldiers back home in their beds can’t pack away memories along with their uniforms. Many become victims of PTSD; ex-soldiers often end up fighting for their sanity.
Some of my students spend half of the academic semesters in reserve duty, often on borders or in the West Bank. Some of them command conscripts and reservists aged 18-39. “The older ones suffer even more from post-trauma,” one told me, as “they have experienced more.” Almost all combat soldiers ache from a certain degree of PTSD, claim my students. That’s a lot of people in pain.
Only one Jewish population group largely avoids this curse: the haredim. It’s not so much that the Almighty protects them more; their escape stems largely from not sending their sons and daughters to protect the country. Not too much in the study of Talmud can startle you awake at 4 a.m. with a panic attack, unless you really, really get anxious about whether Shammai or Hillel got it right.
Yet the haredim are part of the ruling coalition that is sending our kids out to fight over illegal settlements and uprooting olive trees.
They are on the same team as Itamar Ben-Gvir, our national security minister, who himself was rejected from conscription for his extreme beliefs and who has faced charges of incitement and racism and has been convicted of supporting a Jewish terrorist organization.
He cooperates with Bezalel Smotrich, self-proclaimed “fascist homophobe,” our gun-toting finance minister and security minister of something else (it’s just impossible to keep up).
These are the mavens now in charge of when and why our kids fight wars.Smotrich is also fighting a bitter war of his own – against Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Herzi Halevi. Laugh, or cry, the beloved country.
Israel is Macbeth's "Alas, poor country" all over again
Every day brings another brouhaha: it’s “Alas, poor country,” of Macbeth’s Act V all over again. When Macduff demands to know the newest grief, Ross retorts: “That of an hour’s age doth hiss the speaker, / Each minute teems a new one.” We shrug off reports of Deri Law II, or climbing contested trees, or multitudinous security ministers deriding those of defense as one sneers at stale news – every hour delivers a new drama.
BUT ALL was not lost for 11th-century Scotland, where the troubles ensured that only “he who knows nothing is once seen to smile.” Malcolm, the true heir to the Scottish throne, recruited an army that reclaimed history and freed the country from a tyrant king intent only on prolonging his own reign of terror. Bearing boughs of trees before them, they marched into the fray, and before you could say Jackie Robinson or Jack Levine, “the time was free” again.
Here, too, we are not going down so easily. Hundreds of thousands of sane, clear-thinking, concerned citizens of this wondrous country are flowing up to Jerusalem every week to register our disgust at the attempt to destroy our democracy.
The trains were so packed that first week; the people were all so polite. There was no shouting, no fuss. It was impossible not to think of other trains crammed with Jews; impossible not to feel so utterly privileged to be riding in our own transport, in our own country, of our own free will, to a celebration of democracy, followed by a good meal in an overcrowded restaurant.
Our protesters, unlike the army against Macbeth, did not carry branches to hide bayonets; we bore blue-and-white flags of Israel that fluttered sweetly in the tranquil Jerusalem air. Up the escalators we floated in a peaceful stream – no elbowing, no violence, no stress. De-mo-cratia was the catchall, and the most aggressive chant was “Yariv/Levin/ Kan ze lo Polin” – a reminder to the man behind the “reform” to our legal system that this is not Poland.
This is not Poland, and we are not abrogating our miraculous land to anyone who thinks it is.
We knew things wouldn’t be easy from the moment that Meretz failed to pass the threshold, when its achingly-almost-four seats that would have resulted in another 60/60 government split dissolved into the ether of our splintered land. Such a few more votes could have gifted us with another healing coalition to finish the work of the previous government of goodwill.
We knew the new gung-ho coalition spelled trouble; we knew what we were up against. But we couldn’t anticipate that the chaos would come so quickly, and on all levels at once. We didn’t predict withdrawals of capital from our country and heads of banks warning that our robust economy could tank; friendly countries like the United States cautioning us of consequences; Gilbert O’Sullivan canceling his concert. It was all so immediate.
We initially felt so sad and so bloody scared. Many of us checked passport options and wondered whether we should leave. Where, if we left, could we go?
And then we started to fight back. With the Israeli flag as our symbol, we reclaimed the public space, and we did it peacefully and in a spirit of hope.
May we never get to the state of Macbeth’s Scotland, which was “almost afraid to know itself” and could not be called “our mother but our grave.” May our protests remain peaceful and we never know a situation where “sighs and groans, and shrieks that rent the air,/ Are made, not marked, where violent sorrow seems/ A modern ecstasy.”
We will march, and we will sign petitions, and we will strike, and who knows? Maybe one day (like the haredim), we will have to refuse, temporarily, to go to the army or pay our taxes.
But in the end, the time will be free. Eventually the Almighty will turn His face toward us and grant us peace to live and let live – all of us, regardless of our religiosity or sexual proclivities.
Our students will no longer know the meaning of PTSD; our children will clean beaches instead of guns. Single-use plastics that clog our waterways will be taxed once more, as will sugary drinks that clog our arteries. Our future leaders will concentrate on innovation and inclusiveness and stitching a tabernacle of peace, not on how to stay out of jail.
The healing day is coming; hang in there.
Shabbat shalom. See you at a demo.■
The writer lectures at Reichman University and Beit Berl College. Peledpam@gmail.com