Yom Kippur: A day of reflection

The period between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur is a time of repentance, but also a time to ask questions.

A woman looking at her reflection in the mirror 521 (photo credit: MCT)
A woman looking at her reflection in the mirror 521
(photo credit: MCT)
The period between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur is a time of repentance, but also a time to ask questions. What did we accomplish this year? What did we do wrong? Did we make promises but not keep them? Did we lie? The list goes on and on.
Politicians promised us that this administration would be different, better. They promised to lower taxes and to slash the haredi yeshiva budget. They assured us that everyone would share the burden of protecting our country and that we’d have more money to spend on our families. They guaranteed that the educational system and learning conditions would be improved, which would lead to a higher level of learning and better grades. They consented to help the weaker communities in Israel.
They promised to invest in infrastructure, roads and trains, so that we could get from one place to another quicker than it would take to walk there. They swore that Israel would be secure, but with a smaller, smarter and more efficient military, so that we could reduce the defense budget.
They told us that the economy would grow, that tycoons are good for business, and that the banks are promoting growth in the economy.
They promised us an Arab Spring and improved security, political negotiations and new priorities. They made declarations about separating capital and government, fighting corruption and reducing crime levels. They appointed a new minister of culture and sport who vowed that our athletes would bring home international medals. They launched reforms in the automobile and mobile phone industries that would bring down prices considerably.
They said we’d pay lower bank fees and that we’d have an easier time purchasing a home. They promised that broadcasting organizations would implement changes and that cable and satellite companies would face increased competition and therefore charge less.
They assured us that by 2012 metropolitan Tel Aviv would have a light rail, just like all other big cities in the developed world.
They declared that they would stop letting the overly powerful trade unions run the country, and change them back into what they used to be: protectors of working conditions.
And the most important thing that they promised us was a new system of government and a reformed electoral process that would cure the ills of the existing administration.
They promised all this last year. And the year before. And the year before that. In the meantime, the elections came and went and the Israeli people forgot all about these promises and are busy surviving day by day. Life goes on as usual.
There is no new political system because votes are still being sold and large labor unions are still making deals with politicians who are willing to sell their souls to the highest bidder. Even the promoters of this “new” political system realize the old system is here to stay and are busy trying to make their way through the sludge.
Taxes have actually risen and because we are so creative, we’ve even created new ones, instead of cutting funding to yeshivas as was promised. Families have less and less money as time goes on. According to the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel, the OECD ranked Israel at the bottom of the list for productivity, as a result of bureaucracy and poor infrastructure. And reforms whose aim was to have all citizens “share the burden” have turned into a sad joke and have been left sitting in the defense minister’s closed drawer.
Classrooms are even more crowded now, exam scores are falling and the single achievement we can boast is that all the students at a high school in Beit Jann passed their matriculation exams.
Disadvantaged families and poorer municipalities have not received the aid they require. Teachers do not have improved conditions or salaries and the billions of shekels that were supposed to be moved from defense to education have yet to be transferred.
Funds that were earmarked for infrastructure have not yet been transferred, and as a result, roads will not be built, tracks for the train to Eilat will not be laid and interchanges will not be built. Car prices have risen even though they are more expensive in Israel than anywhere else in the world due to outlandish taxation.
Excise tax on gasoline is also much higher than in other countries.
The defense budget, which was finally reduced, is slowly expanding once again; the military will stay big and expensive.
Suddenly all of the tycoons are crashing and being charged with theft and fraud, and the banks that loaned them money are denying any responsibility and demanding what they are owed. The banks are showing increased profits and are growing as a result of the fees they charge ordinary citizens to make up for the hundreds of millions of shekels in debts that they’ve accrued following their pardoning of the tycoons.
They have been busy promoting business, but mostly just their own.
The Arab Spring has turned into an Arab Winter. Politics and money have not been separated and corruption in the public sphere has reached all-time levels. Israeli sports teams continue to embarrass us, since sports organizations are run by mediocre businessmen. We are lucky that here and there we have judo and swimming champions despite their lack of national backing.
The Israel Broadcast Authority continues to collect fees and openly carries out its corrupt practices, all the while failing to broadcast any quality programs whatsoever. Cellular phone costs have not fallen and are still among the highest in the world. The electoral process has not actually been reformed, unions continue to run the country and we are still paying hundreds of shekels for satellite and cable broadcasting.
But the most important thing is that we will continue to get together with friends on Friday evenings to complain.
I wonder what our elected leaders will be doing this Yom Kippur. What will they be thinking about as they sit in synagogue or at home? Will they think about whether they’ve achieved their goals? Or will they not bother thinking about any of this, since nothing substantive will happen before the next election. They know that they’ll once again promise to carry out an endless list of changes that the citizens of Israel will eagerly believe will happen, even though deep down they know none of them will come to fruition.
These politicians know that when Yom Kippur is over, the gates of heaven will close and everyone will go back to their routines.
And we will continue to shout out our demands. Who knows, maybe next year everything will be different and we might actually be “a light unto the nations.” Or at least I can still dream about it.The writer is a former brigadier-general who served as a division head in the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency).
Translated by Hannah Hochner.