One of the “Happiness Pillars” – if you believe in creatively enhancing happiness – is to never grouch and groan. No one wants to hear. That’s why I don’t usually share my loneliest moments or coping strategies for stormy evenings. However, the time has come to vent.
Whenever I feel particularly cheated that my lovely husband is no longer around, I focus fiercely on gratitude. At least I was never abused, I tell myself. At least I never felt the brutality of betrayal; at least I never once considered divorce. That has to be worth something. I’m not familiar with the ache that surely accompanies the sound of a marriage breaking down; the drip drip of details that suddenly coagulate into a startling thought: Is this what I want for the rest of my life?
Now, shockingly, the lure of divorce seems increasingly lovely; the freedom from madness and chaos and pain. Nor am I alone. The chatter over coffee is increasingly of friends working on foreign passports for their children, or encouraging them to go on extended relocations abroad. Gung-ho Zionists and born-in-Israel realists seem to be reluctantly reexamining their motives for living in the Jewish state. Many of the sane secular are unhappily discussing divorce – breaking up with the land we have loved our whole lives.
Before you reach for your phone to dash off an angry email, damning me to all manner of perfidious punishment for my chutzpah, please understand that my Zionist credentials are probably as sound as yours. I left a land of plenty at 17, brimming with a desire to be part of the greatest miracle of the millennium: the rebirth of Israel. My brothers, husband and children all served in the army with honor, risking their lives over and over again. We have paid our dues and worked hard. We’ve been proud to be part of the Zionist enterprise. Through wars and terror, high taxes and torturous traffic, our commitment never wavered.
We have not changed much – my family, friends and I – in the 50-odd years we have lived and worked in our small homeland; the country has. There was more uncovered hair in Jerusalem when I was a student there; there were fewer restaurants displaying large kashrut certificates. As the religious, and especially the ultra-religious, have been fruitful and multiplied exceedingly, the demography of cities has shifted inexorably. All citizens are not equal anymore, and some are much more unequal than others.
I will give you an example.
I have a friend who’s a successful businessman. He’s an Israeli citizen who’s lived here on and off since 1976. He has a home in Tel Aviv, pays bituah leumi and health insurance, and salaries. Each morning he wakes up in London at 5:45 a.m. to do deals in Israel. He donates to Israeli charities and runs support groups. Michael also has a home in London, but he wants to come home from home.
The airport has been closed since January 26, when Israel became the only country in the world to bar its own citizens from entering. Israeli doctors are stuck in New York, Israeli mothers are frantically begging to be let in from Frankfurt, and Israeli tourists in Dubai are running out of money. Yet the airport is hermetically sealed.
Except for the exceptions.
Anecdotal evidence is flooding in. The few passengers who are allowed onto El Al “evacuation flights” report that the majority of their fellow flyers wear the black coats of the very pious. They, according to eyewitnesses, often refuse to wear masks, despite entreaties of the crew. Their demands have not mellowed with the emergency; some still refuse to sit next to women, vociferously voicing their moral superiority.
CRACKS IN THIS godly holiness that are frantically covered over are beginning to emerge. The sealed border from Sinai was mysteriously opened to let Arye Deri’s family slip into Israel on the sly. (Deri is Israel’s interior minister who has served jail time for corruption, and now, surrealistically, faces yet another similar trial.)
Deri’s devout family is not alone in their privilege. Ori Mishgev, a reporter from Haaretz, went to Ben-Gurion Airport early on Thursday morning, February 18, to meet El Al flight 014 from New York. (Haaretz, February 21, 2021). The plane landed at 5:20, in time for travelers to say the morning Shema. Mishgev, who was not allowed inside Terminal Three for COVID-related reasons, stood outside and counted the recently embarked passengers. Of the 169 people who left the terminal with luggage, 114 were haredim (ultra-Orthodox), the vast majority young Yeshiva students. They didn’t look like “humanitarian cases,” he claimed, or “medical emergencies” who merited speedy airlifting to Israel.
The unholy mess just gets worse. The story stinks so badly one wishes it was all fake news. There are rumors that pious politicians, from the parties of God, are helping their constituents enter the country, while secular Michaels have to wade through oceans of paperwork that seem endless. (How many days in 2003 did you spend in Israel?) Black coats, it seems, can get you on a flight. It is well known that prior to elections, Haredi voters flock to Israel in droves. Here we go again.
Scenarios that once seemed utterly far-fetched have become utterly plausible. Perhaps our crime minister is barring the secular from coming home for fear that they will vote him out of office. Otherwise, why isn’t he giving citizens banned from returning the right to vote from the nearest Israeli Embassy? Haredim are pouring in every day as part of our Eternal Leader’s bloc – the more the merrier for him.
Israel was formed to be a safe haven for the Jews; that’s the raison d’etre of the country: a shelter for us when trouble hits, a place that will always take us in. Now Israelis are banned from coming home (unless they can pull protekzia). Every other country in the world is taking in its citizens; only the Jewish state is deciding which Jews can enter. What’s happening to us?
There is one man responsible for this chaos, and he’ll apparently do anything to stay in power and stop his trial. In the process he is gutting democracy, and pushing anyone who dares oppose him off the playing field.
We know what happens to people imprisoned in miserable marriages; are doomed for the rest of our lives to depressed days and sleepless nights punctuated with panic attacks? Is this what living in a crumbling democracy is about to do to us?
No! We sane citizens are sure as hell not giving up on our ancestral home without a squeak. It feels as if this is our last chance for salvation. Anyone with a modicum of decency can surely see that we can’t be ruled by black-coated cultists and “Kahane Hai” crazies for one day more, without going crazy ourselves.
Think carefully before you give Benjamin Netanyahu another shot at abusing us all. We have to get down to the business of bringing back sanity. For the sake of our children we have no choice. Please vote with caution this time around. Let’s all live in a country that celebrates civil, human rights. Not just of the boys in black.
The writer lectures at IDC and Beit Berl.
Join her for a weekly lecture on “Enjoying Literature” – see Facebook: Pamela Peled