Shoshana Lavan

‘Nobody can save you but yourself’

We can change the world: photo by Shoshana Lavan

My family went to England over Purim to celebrate my nephew’s bar mitzvah and the birth of our new grandson. It was a lucky get out clause – we didn’t have to make up excuses why we weren’t going to this or that Purim party. We didn’t feel like celebrating. Saying that to people would only have offended them, because no one wanted to hear us ask: how can you be celebrating at a time like this?

The synagogue in London where my nephew read his parsha so beautifully was based in a school – naturally with security on the door, on the gates, and around the area. Cousins and friends who I’d not seen for a long time wanted to ask questions about Israel. Are you safe? What’s it like there? How are you coping? I felt the isolation and helplessness of the Jews in a diaspora where they are constantly worried whether they can wear their Kippah, their Magen David, or speak freely at work. Hendon is a nice little Jewish bubble, where we saw many Jews in the streets, walking to and from synagogue. But there was also an air of unease. My cousin told me she had never ever considered moving to Israel, but now she is.

The blown-up pictures of the female hostages the community has adopted – to support their families – were right at the front of the hall, harrowingly looking down at us as we said the morning services.

I had thought I was helpless here in Israel, but in England I realized what being helpless really means: living three thousand miles away and never knowing how to make anything better or even whom you can trust. It was a special trip to see family and friends, but I was so relieved to come home – and not just to see our crazy dog and cats dancing round with delight to see us.

Some members of our kibbutz are asking for ‘Shalom Bayit’ – an interesting term in any case, as it alludes in the rabbinic courts to a wife returning to her husband even if he is abusing her, in order to keep the family intact. In other words, it’s a way for the rabbinic courts to perpetuate domestic abuse. In the case of our kibbutz, it’s a way to hush up the residents who wish to share how they feel about Amichai Shikli, the minister for the diaspora, living in our peaceful, peace loving and peace aspiring kibbutz. We have been demonstrating in front of his house each Friday afternoon for months now, asking for him to resign from the government, asking for him to use his influence to get Netanyahu to resign, informing him in no uncertain terms (but peacefully and respectfully) that he has the blood of the slaughtered and the hostages on his hands, because he was instrumental in bringing down the previous government.

Some of those ‘in charge’ of our kibbutz would have us be silent. They don’t want any bother where they live. They don’t want to hear about all this stuff, or to know what he’s really guilty of. They just want to live and let live. The police, too, defend the Shiklis’ right to a quiet, peaceful life, not allowing us to demonstrate in front of their house. It was absolutely fine for Hadas Shikli, Amichai’s wife, to bring a sign to the protestors “Neighbors and neighbors are refusing to be enemies” (a play on the signs we’ve put up in the Arab towns, saying that even in bad times Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies) to suggest we are disturbing this ‘peaceful’ agreement. However, it was not okay when a protestor, a senior citizen, tried to return the sign to her. Suddenly, he was accosted by the police. And pushed by them. As the protestor says in this video, we are not their enemies. We just want to stop the country from burning, bleeding and dying. And we know Minister Shikli has some influence.

Something I think about every week at these peaceful demonstrations, where Shikli’s personal guards (which the country pay for) have called up to three police cars at once so far to ‘protect’ him from his neighbors, is that the absolute opposite happened on the 7th of October, where nobody was sent by the government to protect our people… I feel sick, knowing that had the victims been members of the government, the army and back up would have been called straight away…

On the stairs of my nephew’s synagogue, my eye caught a quotation by Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Apart from bringing back home with me really special memories, I brought back the strength this quotation reinvigorated in me. It came at the perfect time. On our return, I was in touch with a friend who told me she is at peace in her family life, that there is no point trying to change anything – demonstrating only gives us the ‘illusion’ of control. I worry for her sake, if this present government continues indefinitely, how much longer will she indeed be at peace in her family life?

Those of us who are trying often wonder whether we are making any difference. Instead, we should know that somehow, somewhere, we are. I am one of the peacemakers. We are the peacemakers. And that means sometimes doing things others disagree with; it sometimes means being very lonely, and judged by angry people. But just because others shout louder, it doesn’t mean we are wrong. On the contrary, it’s often hardest to do the right thing.

Let’s look at the facts. Hamas infiltrate Israel and slaughter, rape, torture, basically you name it, over a thousand people in one day. Israel declares war on Hamas, and in the process of trying to obliterate them, many, many Gazans are deprived of their homes and their lives. We don’t know how many, because it’s the Hamas ministry of health who is quoting the figures, (imagine such a thing as “the Goebbels ministry of health”). Yet accuracy in numbers is not the point here. One innocent person being killed is already one too many. Our government has no endgame, no future mapped out, is not willing to discuss a two-state solution and is just dead set on war and more war.

This week we have been to Shfaram with Jewish and Arab friends and neighbors to collect clothing and money for the shepherds in the Jordan valley. In previous years we have celebrated with an Iftar together, but this year we decided it was not appropriate. The next day we went to our seven-year-old son’s Hand in Hand school – fifty percent Jewish, fifty percent Arab – where pupils’ parents and the school’s community packed over a hundred boxes of food for Wizo and the Sachnin Social Services, decorating them and attaching drawings and letters. Yesterday, we stood outside the Shikli house with pictures of the hostages, and an enormous sign which asked what he is doing to help them get released. When we saw he was home, after other readings and prayers, I read the following poem, loud enough so he could hear.

nobody can save you but
you will be put again and again
into nearly impossible
they will attempt again and again
through subterfuge, guise and
to make you submit, quit and /or die quietly

nobody can save you but
and it will be easy enough to fail
so very easily
but don’t, don’t, don’t.
just watch them.
listen to them.
do you want to be like that?
a faceless, mindless, heartless
do you want to experience
death before death?

nobody can save you but
and you’re worth saving.
it’s a war not easily won
but if anything is worth winning then
this is it.

think about it.
think about saving your self.
your spiritual self.
your gut self.
your singing magical self and
your beautiful self.
save it.
don’t join the dead-in-spirit.

maintain your self
with humor and grace
and finally
if necessary
wager your self as you struggle,
damn the odds, damn
the price.

only you can save your

do it! do it!

then you’ll know exactly what
I am talking about.

~Charles Bukowski, “nobody but you” from Sifting Through the Madness for the Word, the Line, the Way, 2002

Tonight, we will go to Cesaria and protest outside Netanyahu’s house, calling for a ceasefire and the return of the hostages. And tomorrow, together with many thousands of other anxious and worried citizens, we will be outside the Knesset in Jerusalem. That’s a pretty regular week for us peacemakers – I mean those of us not trying to convince ourselves we can, in these terrible days, live with “Shalom Bayit”.

Just like the quotation says, we are a small group here in this kibbutz. But fortunately, there are many other groups like us all around the country. I believe it will simply be a matter of time, now, until people begin to wake up and realize, “nobody can save you but yourself.”

About the Author
Shoshana Lavan is a published author, high school teacher of English Literature and Language, teacher of English as a foreign language and most importantly, a very proud mother of her gorgeous little boy. She is a peace activist and a committed vegan. A keen runner, she adores the mountains and glorious sunshine in this wonderful country.
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