My Word: An ordinary day

There is little evidence to support US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s comments that Israel is headed the direction of Iran.

Women's rights activists in J'lem 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Women's rights activists in J'lem 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
I got out of bed the other morning, on the same side as usual, but somehow stubbed my toe. This, it turns out, was a good thing. What started out as a sharp pain wore down to discomfort and finally disappeared sometime before the evening. But at least I didn’t have to keep pinching myself throughout the day to check I really was awake.
The urge for some kind of reality check first struck me as I listened to the radio news and read the papers over breakfast. I wanted to make sure that I was alive and well (apart from that sore digit) and living in Jerusalem, Israel.
The reports from both here and abroad made me wonder if I hadn’t gone to sleep in the Jewish state and woken up in Iran. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s comments to that effect were still reverberating. Israel, from where she’s looking – far away from where I was trying to enjoy a cup of coffee without choking – is heading in the direction of the Islamic Republic when it comes to women’s rights.
I looked at the paper. There were stories about Opposition leader and Kadima party head Tzipi Livni and newly elected Labor Party leader Shelly Yacimovich. Both were still referred to in Hebrew in the feminine form. In the background, I was pretty sure I could hear the voice of Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On or maybe it was former Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik (the Kadima whip). Certainly neither can complain that the right-wing or the ultra-Orthodox or anyone else has stopped them from being interviewed on national radio and TV.
I hobbled for a walk with my old dog. On the way, I was greeted by neighbors in various forms of attire. One was still in her housecoat. (It’s that kind of neighborhood, thank heavens, not yet gentrified beyond all forms of typical Israeli informality.) None was wearing anything that resembled a burka.
I downed a second cup of coffee, read something about Israeli Nobel prize winners, and took the bus to town.
I admit I did head for the back of the bus – not because I’m a woman; that’s where most of the vacant seats were.
After a few minutes, a young man also made his way to the back. I was amazed. He wasn’t trying to ensure that it didn’t become a women-only zone; he had offered his seat at the front to an elderly man. There are still reasons to have faith in humanity.
There were other pleasant surprises. I bumped into a friend who lives part of the year in Israel and part of the time in Ireland. She described the devastating effects of the crash of the Irish economy. As we passed the crowded coffee shops of Jerusalem’s trendy German Colony, it was clear that for all its faults, the local economy is still in relatively good shape. And I can’t help thinking that the social protests in Israel this summer were much more fun and family-friendly than the “Occupy this/that/and the other” movements abroad. Several people have admitted that they participated in the Israeli protests partly because it was the cool thing to do (and a chance to hear a free concert).
My day continued to surprise me. As I entered the Central Post Office to mail a parcel, a clerk came up to me and asked, “Can I help you?” More astonishingly, she did help: I was in and out of the building within five minutes instead of the 30 I had allocated myself. The postal authority, it seems, is trying to become more efficient and is offering an automated do-it-yourself service. Of course, the flip side is that inevitably further down the line they will fire staff, but I banished the thought for the time being and arrived unfashionably early for a meeting of the Jerusalem Association of Journalists.
Aided, perhaps, by the doughnuts and the pre-Hanukka spirit, the meeting went relatively smoothly. Despite what you might have thought from the conspiracy theories, we didn’t plot how to overthrow the government, and it occurred to me that I don’t know the politics of some journalists with whom I have worked for years.
It also occurred to me that for a country that is supplying headlines about gagging the freedom of the press, there are still a lot of politicians freely speaking out on the subject – both male and female MKs.
Later on in the day, however, I did come across a clear case of gender discrimination. Friends sent me an invitation to a fund-raising evening – for women only. I pondered firing off a reply: “What’s the fun in that?” but settled for pointing out that banning men from participating in an event solely based on their sex surely counts as some form of discrimination.
In the afternoon, my mood changed as I listened on the radio to the memorial ceremony for the 44 victims of the Carmel fire last year. I was not hit at first by the text read by emcee Dan Kaner, praising the prime minister’s role in understanding the scope of the disaster and mobilizing foreign assistance in combating it. These remarks, obviously written by someone with no sense for the proper time and place, became the focus of news reports, Knesset discussions and even small talk for the next few days.
What struck me, however, was the prime minister’s comment that nine children had been born posthumously to those who died in the blaze.
What kind of pain and emotional roller-coaster have those families been through this year? What will they always have to cope with? The fire devoured without distinction Jews, Muslims, Christians and Druse; religious and secular – all of them working together, all of them dying together.
Incidentally, following the death of her partner in the fire, a lesbian is struggling to have the daughter she is raising officially registered as her own. Please don’t tell me I live in Iran.
Listening to the stories of the families, my pathetic stubbed toe of the morning was quite forgotten. On the other hand, I felt a raw pain in my heart.
The day progressed. There were follow-up reports on the death of North Korea’s Kim Jong-il. The “Dear Leader,” as he was known to his citizens, was no friend of Israel. His support of terrorism in the Mideast threatened us just as surely as his nuclear policy and missile attacks threatened the rest of the civilized world.
In fact, the day his death was announced, just in case anyone thought his son and heir would follow a different path, North Korea test-fired a short-range missile.
Meanwhile, Hafez Assad’s son and heir in Syria – apparently a recipient of North Korean know-how – continued to slaughter his own people, those brave enough to struggle openly for a change.
The global community briefly condemned both regimes but then turned its attention back to what it perceives as the true threat to peace and security – Israel.
I went to bed knowing that all’s not well with the world, but convinced I am not living in a nightmare state.
I woke up the next morning, got out of bed – carefully, this time – and greeted another ordinary day. Well, not so ordinary: That night, we lit the first candle of Hanukka, a reminder that miracles happen. And I can think of nowhere better than Jerusalem to celebrate them.
The writer is editor of The International Jerusalem Post.
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