Monday, May 12, 2008

?האם תרצו

A. A conversation with an Israeli friend who grew up in the US.

Me: True, we have a lot of problems here. But I believe in Israel. We have done so much in 60 years that I have no doubt we can go the rest of the distance.

Friend: (condescending) Oh please. The government is corrupt. The people are corrupt. No one cares about anything but their own wallets. Really, nothing is going to happen to change that.

Me: Of course change can happen! Look at the United States! The federal and local governments were completely corrupt until people got up and called for change. We can do that here. We are already doing that.

Friend: You know, I know you like to believe your pretty little fantasy world. But you cannot compare the US and Israel. The US was built on a good, solid foundation. Israel was built on a bad foundation.

Indeed? Please, take a moment and Google the following:

Tammany Hall. Robber barons. Tenement Slums. Slavery. Star Route Frauds. Decimation of the Native Americans. Discrimination against women. The Red Scare and McCarthyism. Jim Crow. Pollution.

I present you with two potential conclusions to be drawn from the above list:
1) The United States and Israel have equally solid foundations.
2) The United States and Israel have equally weak foundations.

Choose whichever one suits you. Once you have done that, please take a look at some the following:

Charles Henry Parkhurst. Mary Harris ("Mother") Jones. Jacob Riis. Thomas Garret. Dorman Bridgeman Eaton. Sarah James. Susan B. Anthony. Edward R Murrow. Barbara Johns. Rachel Carson.

To save you some time, let me provide you with the common factor linking the names above. Each of the names is that of an ordinary person who said "enough"…and who proceeded to change the United States and make it better. It is thanks to the above people and thousands upon thousands like them that the United States, for all of its faults, is so often cited as an example of good government and a well-functioning society.

Are you asleep, O our nation? What have you been doing until 1882? Sleeping and dreaming the false dream of assimilation. Now thank God, you have awaked from your slothful slumber. The pogroms have awakened you from your charmed sleep. You eyes are open to recognize the obscure and delusive hopes. Can you listen in silence to the taunts and mocking of your enemies?..

Where is your ancient pride, your old spirit? Remember that you were a nation possessing a wise religion, a law, a constitution, a celestial Temple whose wall is still a silent witness to the glories of the past...

Bilu Manifesto 1882

If they can do it, we can do it. Do not forget who we are. Do not forget where we came from. Do not forget what we have endured. And most of all, do not forget what we have accomplished despite everything we have had to endure. For us to doubt ourselves and our abilities as individuals, as a people and as a sovereign nation is patently ridiculous. A corrupt prime minister? קטן עלינו.

B. A conversation with a co-worker.

Friend: My husband and I sometimes talk about how we wish we had been born during the early days of the State.

Me: Why is that?

Friend: Times were different then, better. You know…more idealistic and heroic. People had something to believe in. The people were different then as well. They were more Zionist then, less disillusioned, less selfish and more self-sacrificing. They cared about the State of Israel.

Me: I don't get it—why can't you and your husband be like that? Do community service. I don't know…take your kids to volunteer at an old aged home once a month.

Friend: Oh no! We used to live across the street from an old aged home—it was really frightening.

Me: Well, then do something else.

Friend: Well, you know…things get so busy.

Now here comes the rub. We can…but do we want to? Let us have a little reality check. It is not "the times" and it is not "the country" that is the problem. You are the problem. Do you want to be idealistic? Then be idealistic! What is stopping you? What the hell are you waiting for? Either you want this or you do not. If you want it, you will do it. (Do not worry—I am saying this to myself as well).
אני רוצה להתבגר במדינה שמתגברת על כל הקשיים, בכל המובנים. דואגת לילדים שלה-וגם למייסדים. קולטת עליה, לומדים מניסיון אז נזכור מה שהיה ונעשה את זה נכון. ניקח אחריות, המדינה הזאת שלנו. אז בוא נצעד צעד צעד ללא פחד. נציג את כל שנבקש אם נשאר ביחד. נביט למציאות עמוק בתוך העניין ונבנה עתיד טוב יותר בעבודת כפיים. סאבלימינל והגבעטרון-בת 60
I want to grow up in a country that overcomes all obstacles, in all meanings of the word. That cares for her children and also for her founders. That absorbs olim, learning through experience so that we will remember what was and will do it right. We will take responsibility; this is our country. So come march in step without fear. We will achieve everything we want if we stick together. We will look reality straight in the eyes and we will build a better future with our own hands."

Subliminal and The Gevatron "Sixty Years Old"
Being idealistic in action is not as difficult as it sounds. Volunteer. Teach your children to volunteer. Go to demonstrations. Vote! If the party you voted for does not keep its election promises, kick the bums out. Write letters. Give to charity. Add a tzedakah box to your kitchen décor. Think about the environment. Turn off the water while you scrub the dishes. Fight corruption on every level, and wherever you can. Remember—corruption does not emerge, like Athena, fully formed from the minds of top government officials. It exists everywhere—it is just a matter of scale. The corrupt clerk in the iriyah who has an illegal side arrangement with the black-market guy who buys cars from people looking to leave the country (as encountered by my friends) may well "grow up" to be the mayor with illegal side arrangements with real estate developers. Fight corruption in your own behavior as well. Obey the law.

C. A juxtaposition of two comments made to me by two Israelis.

Comment One: (On the Israel she knew growing up, in the 50's and 60's). Yes, Israel was not rich, but we were also not poor. We did not have as much, but we were happy. It was good to live here. People really cared for one another and cared about the State. It was a community.

Comment Two: (On the changes in Israeli society and the claims that the upper classes are disconnected from the rest of the country). Can you blame people if they want to give their kids all of the things they did not have growing up?

Herein lies the rub. Getting back the idealism may entail some amount of trade-offs. It may entail giving up some of the things people did not have growing up but that they are now able to give to their children. Like, for instance: misery, cynicism, obsessive keeping up with the Joneses, rampant consumerism, self-absorption, and complete disregard and disrespect for the law when it interferes with your shopping or any other pleasure. On the flip side, this may also involve people giving their children what they did have when they were growing up: happiness, community and pride in their country.

Yeah. Definitely. A tough call.
The further we went the hotter the sun got, and the more rocky and bare, repulsive and dreary the landscape became…. There was hardly a tree or a shrub any where. Even the olive and the cactus, those fast friends of a worthless soil, had almost deserted the country. No landscape exists that is more tiresome to the eye than that which bounds the approaches to Jerusalem. The only difference between the roads and the surrounding country, perhaps, is that there are rather more rocks in the roads than in the surrounding country.

The Innocents Abroad, 1869 Mark Twain

To help you decide, I offer you the Jerusalem Forest. Trust me, this makes perfect sense. The generations we most admire are the generations that carpeted the "tiresome terrain" with green. Next time you have a free afternoon, head over there and spend some time enjoying the trees and nature. While you are there, think! Here is the choice. Option number one: you can give your children the forests you had growing up, the forests you were proud of, the forests that represent so much of what is good about Zionism. Option number two: you can give your children a land where there used to be forests back in the days before developers greased the right palms, and the forests were illegally razed in favor of yet another "exclusive" neighborhood.

D. A Conversation With Myself

Me to myself: I love this country. If I ever get married, my relationship with Israel approximates the relationship I hope to have with my husband. I never really understood the mechanics of how people could stay together for years without going stark raving mad and getting sick of one another. Israel has taught me. I came here out of fascination and infatuation. I have stayed out of love and passion, a love that is almost indescribable and that exists despite the myriad of and warts and faults Israel bears and which I have gotten to know over the last seven years. Recently, someone asked me (seriously) if I would be interested in working in the US for a few years. The very thought of being separated from the מולדת, my homeland, for an extended period reduced me to something of a mental panic. This is love. This is my home.
אם תרצו, אין זו אגדה!" תיאודור הרצל
"If you will it, it is no dream!" Theodore Herzl
This is my home. This is your home. Either we do it right or we do it wrong but whatever path we choose, we have no other place. But honestly, I do believe that we can transform the State of Israel into everything it should be. Yes, the challenges we face are huge ones, but think about how much we have done so far. Look at Israel and look at other countries that were established around the same time. Look at where we are compared to where they are. Look at what we have had to deal with. This place is amazing and a testament to the people who built it. The times are different? The people are different? I disagree. The times are the same; it is just the nature of the challenges that have changed. And as for the people? We are the same people. We are just as good and just as strong. We can do anything…if we choose to. If we will it.
עורי עורי דבורה. עורי עורי דברי שיר." שופטם ה יב

"Awake, awake Devora. Awake awake, utter a song." Judges 5:12
Make a choice. Start with a little exercise. Israel spent approximately a gazillion shekels on her 60th birthday celebrations. Ask yourself this: what would need to change here in order that, by the 70th birthday, the government could spend nothing —no official birthday song, no air shows, no fireworks, no logo, no excessive Israel Award prizes—and you would still spend Yom Haatzmaut with a goofy grin on your face and you would still plaster your car, your home and your children with Israeli flags. Now sit down. Write up a list. Then get up, go out and make it happen.
Crossposted to 60 bloggers


Jack said...

Well done.

Laura said...

Gila: Excellent post. There are hundreds of volunteer activities to get involved in that don't require a long-term committment. Some ideas - (a) invite a family of new olim or a lone soldier to Shabbat dinner, (b) do your Shabbat shopping in Sderot one Friday, (c) have your school / shul / work place collect and pack food for soldiers for Ohel Ari (named in memory of Arie Weiss, z''l, through the Outreach Center in Ra'anana........involve your kids and see how enriched their lives are by giving back something to others. Help the country - and the world - a little at a time.

TalTalK said...

I LOVE this post, Gila. And I know exactly how you feel - I literally posted an "I Love Israel" post yesterday on my blog (feel free to read it).

Thanks for posting - I plan on linking to this post later on from my own blog.

Safranit said...

I've already linked to this post...I love it!

Pnina said...

Gila, I love your blog and your posts frequently strike me in ways expected and unexpected, but this is the first that made me write.

Don't curse the darkness, corruption, cynicism, and other flaws (at least don't ONLY curse it) - light a damn candle.

Thank you, and amen sister!

Ye'he Sh'mey Raba Mevorach said...

Gila! Excellent! Eloquent! You hit everything and you said it so WELL. Thank you thank you thank you.

tnspr569 said...

Whoa! Rock on!!

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

Volunteer for MDA. Milluim. Volunteer for local government. Help Recycle. Blog.

But don't forget the sunscreen.

(well done!)

Baila said...

So perfectly put. I've met my share of cynical Israelis, but I've also met some who are as passionate as you and I, and your commenters.

So when are you coming for matzoh balls?

Gila said...

You should all know that I shamed myself so much with this post that I made sure to call the girls I volunteer with and set times to meet with both of them this week. :)

Baila--where do you live? Jlem? If so, can come this weekend. :)

RivkA with a capital A said...


I hate to disagree, but I disagree sooooo much. (I am way too tired to post a coherent response; we'll have to discuss this topic next time you visit)

Let's just say that I agree with parts:
Volunteer (do that), Demonstrate (do that), Remain idealsitic (can't help it, I do that too)

But I believe the foundation of the US is STRONG, and I believe that the checks and ballances that are ingrained in both the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights is SORELY LACKING in Israel.

I am doing my personal best, but I don't trust the system.

Reasons: Amona; young girls (and boys) held in prison (often in solitary confinement) for days/months without being charged with a crime, government controlled media (plus first hand experienc that the media LIES), corrupt judicial system, corrupt government....



That said, I have hope....

Manhigut Yehudit has a practical vision for making our country a better place; and the leadership is comprised of people with high moral character, who are committed to building a better society.

What can I say, I already admitted that I am still an idealist....

Oh yeah, and I LOVE Israel.

Gila said...


A few points.

Illegal imprisonment-Guantanamo. Not to say I disagree or agree (I do not know enough) but it ain't exactly in accordance with the Constitution. Keep in mind that the system the US has now is after 230 years of development and court cases. I would not be surprised if things were a bit less... orderly, shall we say, 100 years ago.

Govt contolled media--also existed (and probably still does) in the US. I remember reading all about that when doing a paper on the origins of the Vietnam War. Really quite shocking.

It should also be pointed out that all of the major newspapers (particularly Haaretz) roundly disagree with and criticise the government on a regular basis.

Constitutional rights--a lot of that has been included in the "Hokei Yesod".

To my eyes, the problem has less to do with the absense of laws (there are laws) and more to do with the absense of enforcement or insufficient penalties. For an example:

1) Stores are open on Shabbat in blatant disrespect of the law. (Not sure if this is lack of enforcement or insufficient penalties).

2) Taking bribes and doing other corrupt things is illegal! The problem is that the laws are not adequately enforced--people turn a blind eye. (US had the same problem-Tamany Hall is a good example)

3) The Supreme Court makes rulings which are then blantantly ignored by the government or other bodies. One of the reasons that the system in the US works is because the Supreme Court has 1) been there to moderate and interpret and 2) the government has to respect their rulings (consider Roe vs. Wade or Brown vs. Board of Ed--completely changed legislation across the US). Even here, however, the Supreme Court is not immune to political pressure (aka-filling the court with liberals or conservatives etc).

3) Illegal construction by Arabs=demolition. Illegal construction by Jews= nothing. This includes cases where the illegal construction includes land grabs. (Yes, am referring to the illegal settlements here).

4) Rabbinical courts...oy...where do I start?

Two words: Wild West. There was a reason that name came into being! Do not compare the US now with Israel now. Compare the US at 1836 with Israel now. For that matter, remember that, also in the US, the enforcement of laws (including the punishment for breaking them) has changed over time. Look at drunk driving legislation, for example.

I still believe we have solid foundations. I just believe we need to gather energy for the next push.

I will read the article you linked to but as a warning--if it is a religious based party don't expect me to sign up. I think we have all seen the results of religion and state.

Gila said...

Just checked out that site.

1) Moshe Feiglin????

2) Election of the Supreme Court--oh great! Hello--the Supreme Court is not supposed to reflect MY values. My values may be crap. The Supreme Court is supposed to reflect the ideal values of the State. If the US Supreme Court had been elected, Brown vs. Board of Ed never would have made it--the values of the US at the time supported segregation and Jim Crow.

3) Annexing all of the territories, giving the Arabs living there the status of "permanent resident" and telling all of the Arab residents that you can live here, but you cannot vote or run for office? What ever happened to no taxation without representation?

Has v'halila that this guy should win.

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

Gila: 3) Illegal construction by Arabs=demolition. Illegal construction by Jews= nothing. This includes cases where the illegal construction includes land grabs. (Yes, am referring to the illegal settlements here).

Sorry Gila, but your statement is not rooted in fact. There are tens of thousands of illegally contsructed Arab homes in Israel -- probably more than a hundred thousand between the Galil, Wadi Ara, Negev and Jerusaelm areas. Israel refuses to knock them down.

On a statstical basis, Jewish "Illegal construction" that is overlooked and not destroyed by Israel is marginal compared to the arabs. There are maybe a few hundred structures all together in what you referred to as Jewish "illegal settlements" (though they are more unauthorized more than illegal). Land grabs? Again, this is not accurate -- I don't know of any settlements built on stolen land. If anything, the largest project to take land from Arabs has been the "security wall".

I doubt you want to turn this thread into a political one, so I'll be happy to cease and desist and continous this by email or wherever.

However, I can promise you that your views on Moshe Feiglin are skewed based on the media and not having met him in person. He is not the monster the media loves to portray him as.

Gila said...

We are skating a bit too close to the political edge, aren't we? :)

As such, and with everyone's cooperation, I will close off the comment thread as follows:

1) Moshe Feiglin--how about... I do not take your word for it, but I do not take the media's word for it either? In respect to RivkA's link, most of my objections were not to Moshe Feiglin, but to the platform outlined on the site. He may be a fantastic guy. He may be a monster. Doesn't matter--to my eyes the platform is still seriously flawed. (Yes indeedy--let's give the election of the Supreme Court to the masses and whomever manages to do the most effective propoganda. And disenfranchise an entire population so that they are politically dependent on the kindness of strangers. Yay!)

2) Illegal construction-then whip out the damn bulldozers and knock it ALL down! Except for my (probably) illegally divided apartment, of course. ;P In seriousness, I have heard it said that illegal building in the Arab sector is a response to the high birth rate and serious discrimination in the granting of building permits. I have not looked into this seriously and can neither confirm nor deny, but want to make sure that people have claims from both sides swimming around in their heads.

3) "Illegal vs. Unauthorized settlements" & "land grabs or not". Shall we agree that the nature of the building--whether illegal or unauthorized-- is as subject that is fiercely debated? But that unauthorized building and unauthorized establishment of new communities is also not particularly legal?

Any additional comments on these lines--please feel free to send directly to my email.


Jameel @ The Muqata said...

Since you're the blog owner, I'll respect your right to have the last word, and I'll send the rest in email...


Bas~Melech said...