My word: On milk and honey

The past few months will go down in Israeli history for all the right reasons; it has been a season of change, a summer of women power, peaceful protests.

Stroller march 311   (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Stroller march 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
It is the time of year for soul searching. Heshbon nefesh. For all those who like to point out that there is no word for accountability in Hebrew, there’s no denying that the concept exists, and during these Days of Awe the idea of “accounting of the soul” comes to the fore.
It has been a year – or at least a summer – that will go down in Israeli history, and fortunately for all the right reasons. It was not a summer of war (although we are heading into an autumn of uncertainty); it was a season of change.
Not for us the seismic movement of the Arab Spring, but there was enough of a tremor to wake us up and shake the smiles off the faces of the complacent.
It has been a summer of women power. A small item in the paper jumped out at me last week: Women in Saudi Arabia are to be given the vote. And, no less liberating, they will be finally allowed to drive.
Someone in the Saudi kingdom has realized that if women are not allowed to enter the 21st century, the next eruption of social protest will include both men and women and it might be powerful enough to bring down the monarchy.
In Israel, Shelly Yacimovich, a longtime campaigner for social rights, was elected in party primaries to be Labor’s driving force – the first woman to lead the party since Golda Meir. Her main rival (outside the perennially fractured party) will be Tzipi Livni, head of Kadima.
One of the most salient features of the social protests here was that the dominant figures were young women. Who had heard of Daphni Leef and Stav Shaffir before July 2011? Who in Israel is not familiar with their names as the Jewish new year begins? For all my reservations about their motives and style, there is no denying that they have managed to create an atmosphere for change.
The “Stroller Marches” across the country, in which parents mobilized and gave their toddler offspring their first lesson in their democratic rights, were the image of peaceful, purposeful protest.
Details of the recommendations of the Trajtenberg Committee presented on September 26 will probably be forgotten before the year is out, the movement which led to its creation will not.
As 5771 drew to an end, Zahavit Cohen, the powerful chairwoman of the giant Tnuva Food Industries, was being questioned by the Antitrust Authority on suspicion of concealing information during the authority’s investigation into the dairy market.
As part of my own soul searching I must admit that I was skeptical that the so-called Cottage Cheese Revolution would have a long-enough shelf life to bring about any changes. But as the June precursor of the Social Revolution dragged on, it created enough of a stink to launch a much-needed inquiry into monopolies and cartels.
It was the down-to-earth protest over the price of this Israeli staple that paved the way for the marches of hundreds of thousands – some obviously intent on not missing the main social event of the summer calendar, many others genuinely seeking “tzedek hevrati,” social justice, in the words of this summer’s motto.
A land of contrasts is Israel at the start of the Jewish New Year 5772. While consumers are still boycotting the most humble of milk products, they are consumed by the TV reality show Master Chef, whose ratings hit an all-time high for the genre on Israeli television. Don’t be fooled by our cottage-cheese-for-breakfast approach to life, we take our food very seriously.
IT MIGHT BE the Land of Milk and Honey, but the ordinary folk are feeling the sting.
The Rosh Hashana tradition of eating apples with honey for a sweet year carried an added price. As reported by the Post’s Nadav Shemer a week ago, a study by the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies found that Israelis will pay around 3.5 times more for the holiday staple than their American counterparts and that the price has gone up by 26 percent in five years.
“Forty percent of the annual consumption of honey in Israel takes place at holiday time this month, mainly on the Jewish New Year. Israelis will consume 1,500 tons of honey in one month, valued at NIS 60 million. An average Israeli will eat 300 grams [10.5 ounces) of honey,” wrote JIMS economist Keren Harel-Harari in the report.
She blamed the high price of honey on the same basic factors that keep dairy products expensive, over-centralization of the industry; the customs duties that prevent imports and competition; and the profit margin of the retailers.
Presenting the recommendations of his government-appointed committee last week, Prof. Manuel Trajtenberg noted there are no quick and easy fixes to the country’s socio-economic problems.
As the prime minister himself likes to point out: Just as a household cannot spend more than its wage earners bring in without going into overdraft, so too, the national economy cannot spend more than it has without going into debt.
Whatever the problems we face in Israel, we can thank our lucky stars (and they include stellar economist Stanley Fischer, the Bank of Israel’s guiding light) that we are not in the same situation as Greece or Spain, despite the undeniable needs of the Israeli defense budget.
SO WHAT can we do as individuals? At this time of soul searching the answer is: “Look inwards.”
Prime Minister Netanyahu is paid a considerable amount more than me to worry about the country’s finances.
Ditto, Stanley Fischer.
But we can all help create a fairer society – and it doesn’t necessarily mean camping out in town squares and chanting slogans.
All that’s required is that we treat each other fairly.
Housing is expensive because of the high cost of the country’s limited land resources. But it is also expensive because landlords demand ever higher rents simply because they can find someone who will pay. These are not faceless tycoons; they are ordinary people – no doubt many of them the parents and grandparents of the youthful protesters.
During the summer’s tent protests I learned of landlords who froze or even dropped the rents of their tenants, but I also know of landlords who decided they could get more for their apartments, based on the prices they heard being discussed at press conferences.
Employers – from those who have a house cleaner to those who lead huge companies – should realize it doesn’t cost anything to be decent; it actually pays.
And we need to get our priorities straight. Value decent values; keep a sense of proportion.
A little modesty goes a long way. A wedding, bar/bat mitzva, birthday party or brit mila is not better for being more ostentatious. It is better when people can relax and enjoy themselves among friends and family.
Teach your children about recycling – or learn from them. It saves costs as well as saving the environment. Protecting natural resources and wildlife, after all, is also part of creating a better place to live, for this and future generations.
Long may we thrive as the only country in the world that worries about the price of honey ahead of the Jewish New Year.
The writer is editor of The International Jerusalem Post.

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