Judicial reform, Tisha Be'av, Yom Kippur War: Time to haste or hesitate? - opinion

There are times when you must refuse to capitulate and times you must compromise. Times to haste and times to hesitate.

 GOLDA MEIR, 1964. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

“What is the proper path to which a person should adhere? Rabbi Shimon says, ‘foreseeing that which is yet to come’” (Pirkei Avot 2:13).

We recently attended a private showing of the new movie Golda. This is a gut-wrenching, dark film that centers exclusively on a very short, yet vitally significant moment in the life of Israeli prime minister Golda Meir, as well as in the history of the State of Israel and the Jewish people as a whole. With great suspense, it faithfully depicts the cataclysmic days leading up to and following the Yom Kippur War of 1973. As our audience was made up solely of bereaved families – including many who had lost a loved one in that very conflict – you can only imagine the high level of emotion in the theater as the story progressed.

The magnificent British actress Dame Helen Mirren plays Golda and delivers a tour de force that may very well win her yet another major award. She is already the only actor to have achieved both the American and the British “Triple Crown of Acting,” with an Oscar, a Tony, and an Emmy, as well as their British equivalents. She portrayed a Mossad agent in The Debt and a Holocaust survivor in Woman of Gold and has immersed herself in learning Hebrew and studying about Israel, the Holocaust, and Jewish history. In Golda, Mirren so transforms herself into her character – chain-smoking in every scene and showing both a sharp wit and grandmotherly wisdom – that even the Israeli actors who worked with her found her hard to distinguish from the real Golda.

However, the film – to my disappointment – skips over the many high points in Golda’s career, such as her moving speech to 50,000 Soviet Jews at Moscow’s Great Synagogue on Rosh Hashana 1948, which energized the refusenik (FSU Jews refused permission to immigrate to Israel) phenomenon, or her slashing repartee with the male-dominated Knesset of her day. 

Instead, the film focuses solely on the most crucial moments of Meir’s time in office – her ill-fated hesitation to activate the reserves and launch a preemptive strike against Egypt and Syria; and the deep, personal despair she felt over the heavy loss of life – more than 2,800 killed. That war, on our most solemn holiday, shook Israel to its core as it transformed the “white fast” (Yom Kippur, the atonement fast) into another “black fast” (the term for Tisha Be’av, the mourning fast).

 ACTRESS HELEN MIRREN attends the Jerusalem Film Festival press conference for ‘Golda,’ July 13.  (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
ACTRESS HELEN MIRREN attends the Jerusalem Film Festival press conference for ‘Golda,’ July 13. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

The IDF, led by general Ariel Sharon, would miraculously turn the tide of battle and drive back the Egyptians and Syrians. The Agranat Commission, which investigated the war’s failures, would absolve Golda of all blame. Yet she resigned from the premiership after the commission report and, by so doing, assumed responsibility for the Yom Kippur tragedy. She would go on to greet Egypt’s Anwar Sadat on his historic visit to Jerusalem in 1977 – a direct result of Israel’s victory in the war – but would die a year later, before the ground-breaking peace treaty was signed.

Now, 50 years on from that watershed event, it seems to me that the central lesson it should have taught us is the capacity to anticipate the future and predict, as best as possible, what lies ahead, in preparation for what may lurk just around the corner. Wariness of the unknown ought to motivate us as a nation to allow for the possibility of “worst-case” scenarios, keeping us one step ahead of the status quo, poised to take the necessary steps that can ward off disaster. 

Lessons from Golda Meir on the judicial reform crisis

THIS IS what I find most unsettling about our current crisis.  

I don’t pretend to know very much about judicial reform, but I would ask, “Is it really worth all the turmoil it has generated?” In this fast and furious “rush to judgment,” did its proponents take into consideration the massive nerve that was struck across the country, the widespread feelings of disenfranchisement that led to an unprecedented outpouring of resentment? Did they consider that it would result in many millions of investment dollars being withdrawn from our markets, causing the once-mighty shekel to lose almost 20% of its value? That our relations with America and England would be impaired, despite the rhetoric? That Saudi Arabia would seek a rapprochement with Iran rather than with Israel and that even the Emirates, our newest friends, would back off into “wait and see” mode? 

Do the protesters understand the message of chaos they send to the world when highways are blocked and the airport shut down? Do the pilots and soldiers and military leaders calling for a boycott comprehend the effect this can have vis-a-vis our enemies, who constantly seek to energize their ranks and embolden their youth with the fantasy that Israel might, indeed, be terminally weak and fatally vulnerable? 

Do both coalition and opposition members grasp the gravity of this crisis and truly want to find a middle road, or do they consider themselves more important than the people they claim to represent? How close to the brink are they prepared to take all of us?

THE OUTSTANDING personality of Tisha Be’av is Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai (30 BCE to 90 CE). He witnessed in horror the internecine fighting of the nation as we viciously battled one another while the Romans stood silent, watching our social fabric disintegrate. Rabbi Yochanan finally came to the bitter conclusion that if we were to survive this national trauma, bold action must be taken. He stood up against the ruling authority, even against his own rabbis – the great Rabbi Akiva called him a fool – and ingenuously managed to escape from Jerusalem and plead with Vespasian, the general-turned-emperor, to reboot Judaism in a new locale with new leaders. Like the prophet Jeremiah of the previous Temple destruction, he went against the grain and chose flight rather than fight. And we lived to see another day, albeit in lesser glory.

At the end of his long life – tradition says he lived until 120 – Rabbi Yochanan still questioned his decision. On his deathbed, he said to his students, “I don’t know whether I am headed to the Garden of Eden or to Gehinnom.” 

But he expressed hope that he would be escorted to heaven by King Hezekiah, who had stood firm against the Assyrians when they tried, but failed, to conquer Jerusalem. 

He was, I think, acknowledging that there are times when you must refuse to capitulate, and times when you must resort to compromise. Times when haste is called for – as in the Yom Kippur War – and times when hesitation is the smarter move. Knowing which is the right path, and visualizing where that path will take you, is the difference between disaster and destiny.

At one point in the aforementioned movie, Golda turns to Ariel Sharon – who is clearly enjoying his new-found hero status – and tells him, “Arik, don’t you know that all political careers end in failure?” 

Her biting words reverberate beyond the grave and should send a penetrating message to the powers that be. 

The writer is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra’anana. jocmtv@netvision.net.il