Right from Wrong: Owing Israel an apology

The streets of Herzliya on Yom Kippur. (photo credit: RON ALMOG/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)
The streets of Herzliya on Yom Kippur.
The week between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur might be described as a cheerful lead-up to the holiest and most solemn of Judaism’s High Holy Days.
Every year at this time, the Israeli public is treated to tips on how to get through the 25-hour fast with minimal suffering. Pointers from medical experts interviewed in print and over the airways include the healthiest methods for avoiding feeling faint from hunger and thirst, and the best ways to prevent caffeine withdrawal.
In addition, people on the street begin wishing one another an “easy fast,” and bidding them a gmar hatima tova – that the sealing of their fate in the Book of Life for the coming year may be a good one.
It is a particularly odd social convention, considering that the purpose of fasting is precisely to create the optimal conditions for undertaking the toughest spiritual task there is: atoning for sins against God and man.
Theoretically, then, the process of abstinence is not meant to be easy; it is geared towards maximizing the effect of prayer and confession. In practice, however, it translates into a focus on food. We Israelis are Jews, after all.
Another thing we are, like all human beings, is hypocritical.
INDEED, NO SOONER does Yom Kippur end than the very people who spent days apologizing to their friends and family members for any wrongdoing they may have committed – and hours upon hours in synagogue beating their breasts before God – promptly resume mistreating their fellow man without the slightest twinge of remorse.
Ironically, the prophet Isaiah – whose verses are read during Yom Kippur services – made this very point about the pointlessness of ritual without genuine intent.
The purpose of fasting, he said, is “to lock the fetters of wickedness, and untie the cords of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, to break off every yoke, to share your bread with the hungry, and to take the poor into your home, when you see the naked, to clothe him and not to ignore your own kin.” (Isaiah 58: 6-7)
In other words, skipping a few meals does not constitute penitence for the past or a promise to do better in the future. Nor does any rote-like ritual provide absolution.
We all know this, of course. Deep down, at least. But it’s a lot simpler to avoid putting something in one’s mouth than it is to control what comes out of it – as has been painfully evident everywhere in the country, from the halls of the Knesset to the lines at gas stations and the aisles of supermarkets.
Isaiah must be writhing in his grave.
To avoid the hypocrisy of which I am as guilty as the next guy – and not spout meaningless words to certain individuals towards whom I cannot feel honest compunction – I would like, instead, to extend a list of heart-felt apologies to the State of Israel as a whole.
I AM SORRY for attacking the political system. Though this year, its flaws became particularly noticeable – with the power of small parties to topple and paralyze the government, and the onset of the current coalition stalemate – it has served the country well. Contrary to assertions from both sides of the spectrum, each for its own reasons, Israel is and remains a flourishing democracy, warts and all. In fact, part of the problem with the system is that it gives a voice and a place in parliament to all sectors. The battle over budgets and the insistence on a say in statecraft is always passionate and often ugly, but this is an indication of success, not failure.
I vow, therefore, to remove all malice from the criticism I am more than likely to express in the near and far future.
I am sorry, too, for joining in the cacophony against the Israeli media, of which I am a member. Though journalists and pundits with whom I strongly disagree regularly arouse my ire, the truth is that if I were in their shoes, I would be presenting similar arguments against the politicians and policies they abhor. I know this, because I am just as responsible for highlighting the crimes, misdemeanors, bad behavior and double standards of the politicians and policies I oppose.
Furthermore, though I have underscored the left-wing slant of the local press, even I have to admit that there are many more right-leaning analysts and anchors – as well as an entire TV station, Channel 20 – participating in the reportage and debate than ever before. I therefore promise, from now on, to try and defeat positions I consider false, rather than dismissing them as harmful to my side and blaming the media for everything.
I am also sorry for complaining about the economy. Though there could be much improvement, especially on the micro level, the challenges that Israel faces from every direction, literally and figuratively, are so great as to make miraculous the standard of living that so many Israelis, including myself, do enjoy, even with the fear and threat of a looming overdraft.
It is amusing to note one secret that people who hail from other countries do not like to share: Living in the Jewish state with no money – in spite of its high prices and low wages – is easier and more palatable than doing so elsewhere. I therefore commit to stop whining about the inability to make a living in Israel. Or at least to take a stab at holding my tongue.
I am sorry, as well, for not standing up forcefully enough to my friends, whether native-born or immigrants, who bemoan their plight and berate Israeli society for being a crass, unfeeling, incompetent and violent lot. Though it is true that much of the public could stand a lesson or two in the value of good manners, and civil servants might benefit from a course in dealing with customers bogged down in daunting bureaucracy, Israelis tend to be generous of spirit. Yes, the same clerk who grumbles at having to do his/her job would stop to give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to someone who fainted in front of him/her. I take on the obligation, then, to underscore all that is good about the country whenever someone stresses its evils in my presence.
FINALLY, I APOLOGIZE if I have given anyone the impression that I would be bitter about whatever coalition is cobbled together, or would not accept a third round of Knesset elections, if that becomes necessary. My view – that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is a great leader – has not changed; nor has my sense that the charges against him are flimsy, at best, been shaken.
In addition, I am less than thrilled about the prospect of a national-unity government, headed either by Netanyahu or by Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, whether or not they reach a rotation agreement. Nor do I welcome new elections, which probably would result in an outcome nearly identical to that of the September 17 vote.
But as soon as a government is formed, including if its makeup is one I consider disappointing, I pledge to continue to use my pen to defend the country against its external enemies, such as Iran – whose regime boasts about possessing the will and means to wipe Israel off the map – and those at home and abroad who engage in equally serious efforts to delegitimize the Jewish state in order to call its existence into question.
I hope to keep the above promises in the year to come, and to live up to a different admonition by Isaiah – verse 5:20 – which is not recited on Yom Kippur, but should be remembered and applied by all of us every single day of each calendar year: “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that change darkness into light, and light into darkness.”