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Breaking up a government over sandwiches

Just because Israel is a Jewish country doesn't mean strict Passover observance wins over non-observant people's right to eat what they want - except when it does

“The test of a civilization is the way that it cares for its helpless members,” said novelist and Pulitzer Prize winner Pearl Buck (in a quote often misattributed to Mahatma Gandhi, but which rings true nonetheless).

“Idit Silman left the coalition,” my friend tells me over coffee this morning. “That tips the scales — the government will probably be dismantled. Of course, this hametz in hospitals thing is just an excuse. Everyone knows it’s all about personal politics.”

I nod, and sip my coffee.

Of course, he’s right. Nobody breaks up a government over sandwiches. 

But on a deeper level, I think he’s wrong. I think the hametz (leavened food) in hospitals thing is emblematic of Israel’s political divide — perhaps its most perfect analogy.

I mean, the traditional “left-right” divide here has been obsolete for a long time now. There’s no real left — the camp split between the country’s shrinking Ashkenazi upper-middle class and religious Muslim parties, neither truly interested in redistribution of capital or workers’ rights, while what we call the “right” is made up of a variety of political parties with various economic, national and social doctrines, some libertarian, some declaratively socialist (at least in regard to the demographics they’re affiliated with), most neo-liberal to some degree, all united primarily, if not solely, by their reactionary Jewish identity. 

But asking a person if they believe hametz — and outside foods in general — should be allowed in hospitals during Passover can give you a pretty full sense of that person’s political affiliation.

“It’s a Jewish country,” some friends comment on Minister of Health Nitzan Horowitz’s decision to promote the Supreme Court ruling allowing people to bring in non-kosher dishes into hospitals during Passover, thereby compromising the ability of those who are observant to maintain an OCD-compliant environment free of leavened foodstuffs. They say this as if the country’s national identity makes it obvious that upholding Jewish tradition is more important than non-observant people’s right to prefer takeout or a packed lunch over hospital food.

Of course, people undergoing medical treatment may need non-hospital food for reasons that go beyond their personal sense of gastronomic aesthetics. Some ill people may have special dietary requirements that the hospital cannot answer fully. Others may be coming in for 10-hour long rounds of treatments for several consecutive days or even weeks, accompanied by friends or relatives whose budget will not allow them to buy lunch in hospital cafeterias. Others may be undergoing treatments that affect their appetites, and may find familiar home cooked dishes, or menu items from a favorite restaurant, more palatable during those rare windows of opportunity in which food seems appealing.

This isn’t a hypothetical. I have heard from some doctors that during Passover, the symptoms of hospitalized people suffering from gastric diseases rise significantly because they cannot supplement their hospital diet with outside foods that meet their personal needs.

When I hear people oppose letting others bring hametz into hospitals on the grounds of the nation’s Jewish character, what I hear is people saying the institutions and traditions of Judaism are more important to them than the well-being of actual people and the sensitive complexities of their lives. And when I look at what other views and policies this faction in Israeli society that places Judaism over people holds, I see that they also support the occupation, and oppose civil unions, and public transport on weekends — all for the same reason. To them, people aren’t people — they’re demographics, numbers on a “with us or against us” chart, which is why they feel comfortable calling more than 20 percent of the nation’s citizens a “demographic threat,” or making the lives of the sick and injured more difficult, or making it unbelievably expensive for people without cars to visit family or go to the beach on weekends — or dragging an entire country into another round of elections over sandwiches. 

So no, there’s no “right” or “left” camps in Israel. There’s “People above all” and “Judaism above all” camps, and to the latter, breaking a government up over sandwiches makes sense.

About the Author
Born in Israel, raised all over the world, Adam is an artist and writer currently located in Tel Aviv.
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