Winston Churchill is often quoted, falsely, as saying “Any man who is under 30, and is not a liberal, has not heart; and any man who is over 30, and is not a conservative, has no brains.” And by that measure, I’ve spent most of my life being heartless. For example, while I’ve made a lot of choices that disappointed my parents (and enjoyed most of them), surprisingly, the choice that made them despair for my soul was neither my disastrous first marriage, nor my conversion to Judaism, but rather my announcement at the age of 10 that I was voting Republican in the mock Presidential elections at school. My mother, who had been teaching for the Detroit Public School system for several years by that point, considered this to be something of a personal affront.
“How can you vote for Ronald Reagan?! He’s a union buster!”
Discretion being the better part of valor, I decided it was not the time to mention our vacation to Mexico the previous summer, entirely made possible by the low airfares due to Reagan’s deregulation of the airline industry. But while I didn’t put up a fight then, I was already secure in my belief that people got out of life what they put into it, and that government should interfere with that particular piece of karma as little as possible. Yes, I know that’s more Libertarian than Republican. I was only 10, for goodness sake! But still, I was disgustingly precocious.
What followed was two decades of passionate conservatism in the Ayn Rand mold: Healthy doses of rugged individualism and strict morality in equal measure. And then, I moved to Israel. I was so in love with Zionism that I was willing to overlook this country’s Socialist underpinnings. At least at first. But slowly, I grew disenchanted with all of the talk about equality while being surrounded by instances where this was obviously not being followed up with action.
Why is it that when I worked in Jerusalem’s Har Hotzvim technology park, the other brown faces that I saw were those of the cleaning staff? Why does it take so long to get a doctor’s appointment with a specialist without resorting to private care, with at least one third of my kupah appointments being rescheduled? If, according to the National Insurance Institute, the median income for a family of five was 15,000 nis per month in 2011, why is it so difficult to find a house for sale where the mortgage would be less than 30% of that amount, even if we discount the huge down payment needed to purchase a home in the first place? The Israeli system simultaneously punishes individual success with high taxes and bureaucracy, without actually providing a safety net to protect the weak.
The stratification of Israeli society is beginning to get to me, and I’d love to know where to turn for answers. I no longer believe that the majority of Israeli citizens who are living at or near the poverty line in this country are able to change their circumstances without substantial assistance. But we cannot rely on the government alone while shirking our personal responsibilities, and if people are willing to sleep in a tent to get cheap cottage cheese, shouldn’t we be even more worked up about the growing numbers of people who are at the mercy of their landlords to not raise the rent, just so that they can keep from being homeless? As I recently told a friend who was chiding my slide to the left, I’ve finally decided it’s time to use both my brain and my heart.