A real life civics lesson for a 17-year-old

I’m a seventeen-year-old 12th grader and live in Jerusalem. I am lucky that my family owns an apartment, and my parents and I all work. While this is great, it means we pay a lot in taxes (though my parents don’t share those details with me). I guess I’m what some would stereotypically call “a good kid from a good family”.

Because of the coronavirus, like most kids in Israel, my school year has been from home on Zoom. In ezrachut (civics) class, we’ve been learning about civil rights. I am proud to live in a Jewish and democratic country in which “all citizens are equal”.

Last week, I met a friend in a neighborhood park. We caught up while socially distanced and wearing masks. An undercover policewoman approached us, demanded to see our identification cards and determined that we were slightly over 1,000 meters from our respective homes. Because we had crossed the max limit set for the current government-imposed lockdown, we received 500 shekel tickets. Bummer! But we were guilty as charged, so I guess we deserved these tickets. I went home depressed, and thinking about how many hours I’d have to work in order to be able to pay the fine.

Later that night, my dad and I watched the local news and the horrific footage of hundreds of Haredim, without masks, wreaking havoc while attacking a police car (with police in it). I was surprised and upset to hear that the attackers were not getting fines for this savage behavior, just as they also were not being fined for holding mass gatherings, attending school live (while my friends and I are confined to Zoom clases), or other coronavirus infractions.

Democratic country? All citizens treated equally? I went over my civics texts (I needed to do this anyhow for my upcoming matriculation exam). I found nothing to explain why a “good kid from a good family” should pay a fine from her hard-earned money, while her fellow citizens across town can break the government imposed lockdown, and threaten police officers without consequence.

So now I’m conflicted. My civics course is teaching me one thing about equality. My day-to-day experience is teaching me something else altogether. Should I pay my fine because, I admit, I did break the law, or should I rally hundreds of friends to attack the police (funded by my family’s taxes), while not wearing masks, because I don’t like the laws? I am being taught about equality each day in school, and witnessing the reality of inequality on the news at night. I guess I’m learning the reality of 2021 Israel – that some people are allowed to break the law, and others aren’t. It’s a lesson that is important but depressing to learn at age seventeen.

About the Author
Leebie Goldberg-Polin is a 12th grader at Evelina High School in Jerusalem. She plans to attend a pre military mechina program next year before enlisting in the Israel Defense Forces.
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