In Plain Language: Unmasking Israel

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if some of those running for office went out among the people of this great land... specifically in places where they don’t normally go.

Sara Netanyahu and Moshik Galamin inside PM's residence (photo credit: screenshot)
Sara Netanyahu and Moshik Galamin inside PM's residence
(photo credit: screenshot)
‘Curiouser and curiouser!” cried Alice in Wonderland.
As the approaching Knesset elections continue to cast their gloomy shadow upon us, every day seems to reveal some new scandal or sordid revelation.
Perhaps it is yet another indictment of a Yisrael Beytenu member, or the banning of some fringe candidate from running. Or maybe it is the rise and fall of an erstwhile soccer-star-turned-politician, or the “shocking” inside look at the latest chapter of “Tales of the Prime Minister’s Wife” (or as I call it, “Bupkis in a Bottle”). Or the daily mud-slinging between virtually all the parties, which greatly prefer denigrating their opponents to coming up with solid platforms and new and positive approaches to our many national challenges.
How can we inject a bit of class, civility and creative thinking into the electoral process? I suggest the various parties take a cue from the upcoming Purim holiday.
One of the most beloved customs of Purim is the donning of masks or costumes.
The reasons for this are many: Esther masked her true identity as a Jew, until the critical moment when she revealed her lineage and trapped the evil Haman; Mordecai was dressed in royal garb when he was honored by Ahasuerus; even God Himself is “masked” throughout the story, and not explicitly mentioned even once in the entire Megila.
But another reason for the masks is out of concern for our fellow man. You see, Purim, by tradition, is a time for helping the poor, above and beyond what we normally do for them during the rest of the year. Knowing this, many indigent people take to the streets, asking for assistance. And so, rather than embarrass those who are collecting, we wear costumes that embarrass or even humiliate ourselves a bit in the process, so the poor do not feel so conspicuous.
Which brings me to the point of this article: Wouldn’t it be wonderful if some of those running for office went – incognito, without any preconceived notions – among the people of this great land, to see what they think, what “makes them tick”? And not just among their own constituents and in their own comfort zone, but davka in places where they don’t normally go, among those with whom they don’t normally associate.
Let some members of Meretz or the Zionist Union, male or female, attend some classes in a men’s yeshiva or women’s midrasha. Pore over a difficult Torah verse or talmudic passage with some of the students; get into a discussion about God or morality or free will versus divine control. Ask the haredi person sitting across from you how he or she was able to maintain faith in a Supreme Being despite all the trials and tribulations we have faced in our history. Maybe ask to spend a Shabbat, or at least a Shabbat meal, with one of these families, and see the beauty of Jewish tradition come alive in song and celebration, prayer and delicious potato kugel.
Then, maybe these left-leaning candidates will understand that these are the people who kept Judaism alive for 2,000 years, in some of the roughest conditions ever known to mankind. Would there be an Israel today if an intrepid band of observant Jews had not steadfastly held on to the tenets of the Torah through the generations? If they had not prayed fervently, three times a day, for a return to Zion? Rather than search out only the faults in that community, take down the defensive wall and see the good qualities too, the strong points there in abundance.
And let some in the haredi parties like Shas or United Torah Judaism spend a few days living and working on a non-religious kibbutz, like Deganya (established 1910) or Sde Boker (1952) or Eshbal (1998). Talk to some of these pioneers, in particular the veteran members – and learn of their intense struggle to forge a nation in the early years of the state, until today. Listen to their stories of how they transformed the barren and rocky land into a bountiful paradise, how they fought swamps, poverty and hostile neighbors to set the boundaries of the fledgling state.
Remember that all the luxuries we have today, including “sitting by the eastern wall and discussing the holy books with the learned men seven hours every day,” might very well never have materialized had it not been for the intelligence and industriousness of these devoted men and women in pre-state Palestine, who answered the call and formed the majority of those who came and built Israel’s infrastructure. Their kibbutzim may have lacked synagogues in those early days – and maybe even today – but there was no lack of sweat or self-sacrifice.
Speaking of which, it would be enlightening indeed to break bread –kosher, of course –with young men and women in the IDF. Soak up some of their youthful exuberance at defending the country, get a glimpse of their profiles in courage which allow all of us to sleep well at night. Appreciate the fact that anyone who performs a vital task in the nation is a necessary component to everyone being able to lead a normal life.
These people in uniform are the direct descendants of Joshua, who fought the battle of Jericho when we entered the land, and David, who fought Goliath and the Philistines. How can they not deserve our respect and gratitude? There is more. Let those who enjoy privileged lives in the pricey, trendy neighborhoods of the “Gedera-Hadera belt” come down to south Tel Aviv or the development towns in the South.
Let them spend some valuable hours with those living below the poverty line –sadly, it’s not hard to find them – or members of the Ethiopian community, who experience discrimination and social challenges every day of their lives.
They are people, too, and not just one more potential vote. They are the salt of the earth, the ones who serve to define our own values – for a government is best judged on how it treats the least entitled members of its society.
It would also behoove all the factions,perhaps the right wing in particular,to open lines of communication with the Israeli-Arab community. While Israel is a Jewish state – and will always remain one – Druse and Beduin and Muslims and Christian Arabs live here too, a good deal of them for many generations.
They have their own outlook and approach to Israel, and they are not monolithic in their attitude toward it. I am sure that a good part of the resentment many of them express derives from their feelings of neglect, distrust and disenfranchisement.
We all know the famous adage, attributed to the American Indians – oops, I mean “Native Americans” – “Don’t judge a man until you walk a mile in his moccasins” (or sandals or sneakers or high heels, whatever you put on your feet). In other words, until you appreciate the struggle and situation of others, you will not be able to either relate well to them nor remedy their problems – let alone appreciate their uniqueness.
Candidates: You say you want to be one of the elite “judges,” charged with governing our great nation? Then don’t just talk the talk. Walk the walk; get out there and meet the people you hope to be leading, and see beyond the labels, see who we really are.
You’ll wear out a few pairs of moccasins, no doubt, but you’ll also earn the title of “brave” – and be a whole lot more equipped to lead this amazing country.
The writer is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra’anana; [email protected]