Safra Turner

Fighting fire with fire

Those who know me know I am serious.

In the past year alone, the Israeli government has taken two full (plus) months of our income as “taxes” in two separate charges. This was in addition to the high monthly taxes that we already pay to National Insurance, income tax and VAT. Rather than allowing us to pay monthly, on time, as we had thought we had been doing, they informed us that we can only pay “advances on approximate income”. In other words, this will continue to occur at least once, if not more, every single year for the rest of our small-business lives.

Our salaries combined, rarely hit minimum output as it is. We pay a few thousand hard earned shekels every month to the combined bureaucracies.

That is an awful situation. Really. Imagine a situation where every single agura that you think you’re earning that month going straight down the drain, without advance warning: The money that goes directly to food, rent, childcare, electricity, water, health insurance — heaven forbid we inherited a much-needed car – and every single additional payment, gone. Thank G-d we refuse to have credit cards that are not bank connected, or we would be in serious trouble.

Many with money would say to prepare for these “surprises,” but as small business owners, that is almost impossible. This country is not easy on small businesses.  Not at all.

Well, get a salaried job then, right? Ok, I am all for it, but where I live, my average income would pay for childcare and some of my rent (and I have a master’s degree).

Then move to a location with a better income, many would say. Well, then my rent and cost of living will rise and I still won’t cover the minimum. We actually moved back up north because of this.

Yeah, that sucks.

That’s life in the current social and bureaucratic conditions of our country. Rent and cost of living are on average much higher than the average family’s income.

Hence the social protests of the “middle class.”

So who is this middle class that is so often attacked for protesting for social change here in Israel? Let me tell you something: Supposedly, I am middle class. I have been here 15 years, have attained a master’s degree, have worked in supposedly respectable positions; yet only in a single six-month period, between paying off my education and before having a child, were we been able to stay above water.

My favorite social pastime during that period was window shopping. Any woman would think that was awful; personally, I grew to love it. If I did not really want an item two weeks later, I never bought it. If I did really want it, I seriously considered whether it was worth the investment.

Our surplus? We stayed level at about 2,000 shekels (500$) a month above zero. When I visited my family in the States we were back in trouble, and spent the next several months paying off that expensive but necessary visit.

We could never afford extra expenses, such as a necessary operation for my dog. The vet couldn’t sleep for a few nights and did it at minimum cost. (Thank you, Dr. Horowitz from Moshav Yavuv, you are an amazing man and my favorite vet!)

Now we have a child. We have yet to be able to keep ourselves above zero, no matter how much we cut back. Even when I don’t think we can cut back any more, I redo our budget, and still cannot make it work. We only visit my family in the USA every other year.

We live in the “periphery,” right outside of Haifa. My education and professional expertise is in government and NGOs — one could say my mistake it that I actually care. Since moving back north, the highest salary offered me was 6,000 NIS (1,700 USD), which barely covered our rent and childcare. Forget health, electricity, water, internet, emergency spending, FOOD, car, and any extra money for clothes (kids grow), or the necessities that pop up along the way.

My clothing is almost all secondhand from my sister in the States, cheap shopping during US visits, and an occasional breakdown. Thank G-d for family — distance makes for more free stuff. The longer separated, the more free clothing.

We still try, though. We know we can rarely hit that minimum to survive the month, but we try. My husband still wakes up at 5:30 every morning to work. I still try to bring in freelance translation and writing jobs and am always on the lookout for work that I can do from home.

We stay here, knowing that the odds are against us overcoming that awful bureaucracy that takes every shekel we have. They are willing to remove absurd fines based solely on the grounds that we “are nice and we respect them”– never because they made a mistake. Every fine thus far has been the fault of the bureaucratic system, not ours (for what it’s worth, I have saved all of the documentation to prove it — all of it).

The situation hurts. But that is the situation.

I know it gets so much harder when you’re disabled or ill. Without going into detail, I will say that our family has experienced this firsthand. We never set ourselves on fire. If we had, maybe the severity of the situation would have been taken more seriously, but from the way that I see these latest self-immolations, I doubt it.

It would not have saved us the pain of losing a family member. Nor would it have taken away our troubles. It would have added pain due to additional traumas the family would have had to deal with.

When I personally consider setting oneself aflame, I consider the Vietnamese Buddhist monk from the ’70s. That seemed to make sense. I don’t know why, but it did.

What is happening now, out of desperation, out of a need to be heard, it is not making sense to me.

Why are we setting fire to ourselves? Are we not better than that? Are we not worth more than fire? It is exactly these voices that need to become our strongest and most vibrant activists, and they are literally going up in flames.

Their lives, like mine, are worth so much more than 15 minutes of fame; and 15 minutes is all they ever will receive. They will be quickly forgotten by the media and public as the next newsworthy headline replaces them. So unfortunate, so true.

We need to fight the system, through the system, in order to change the system. Killing and maiming ourselves will not cut it. It will sensationalize the issue for a short human minute, and then it will be forgotten.

To make change we need to create, not self-immolate.





About the Author
Safra made aliya in 1997, and has been involved in the Jewish world both professionally and voluntarily throughout her life. She currently resides near Haifa and owns a small translation business. Safra is married and has one son.