Not In My Backyard

Do you have a child? I don’t, yet, but here is what I imagine that having a child must be like when you’re watching them taking a step towards the dark side.  Doing something that should be so out of character for them (as an extension of being YOUR child with YOUR values and shared historical past), that the only thing you can do is feel like maybe you should have done something or said something to have prevented this moment right now.

This is how I feel right now about Israel relating to its refugee problem.

And right now, thousands of Southern Sudanese refugees are being rounded up around my country – soon to be deported back to Southern Sudan – a country only recently declared independent, and far from the safety net that any person with children would want to be sent to.

Yesterday I went for a run that took me through a park next to the Shuk HaCarmel in Tel Aviv, and hadn’t realized that this place had become a de facto bedroom for some of these refugees. I have gotten so used to seeing many of them in our city, hard at work, that to see them sleeping on the ground, some on thin mattresses and others just wrapped in blankets, reminded me of their fragility, and the life they chose when they came to Israel.

And now, many of them will be deported, back to a life of even greater fragility and of fear for themselves and their children. And I feel sick – as if I’m watching my child (Israel) from the sidelines as it does something without understanding the repercussions.

With over 60,000 African refugees, and more coming every day, our country is at an existential (and physical) loss as to what to do.  We don’t have the resources to adequately support these populations, nor do we, apparently, have the national will.  And, in many ways, the reactions of many are understandable, even if deplorable. We have become responsible for these populations -not by choice, and perhaps as a result of humanely taking them into our borders, we are now paying a huge internal price.

How do we define our national agenda vis-à-vis an incoming population of people that are running, in much the same way we ran less than 80 years ago? How do we take them in with compassion, recognizing that people are human, and sometimes individuals in those populations (as well as ours) do bad things? How do we not allow ourselves the luxury of using this as the excuse to get rid of them? While crime may have increased in the neighborhoods in southern Tel Aviv, our government is equally at fault for not having increased police protection in these areas ensuring the safety and well being of its local residents.

Our city is being torn apart right now – in truth, not over racism – but over our government’s lack of response to a situation well before it reached its boiling over point. What I increasingly feel is the most common sentiment here of not acting until there is a crisis does not insure us, nor does it create stability for its citizens or those who seek to gain entry into the “Promised Land”.

For once, I would like our country to behave differently. I would like for us to band together in a national conversation on the values and beliefs we had in our founding to find a solution. It is incumbent on us to use this as an opportunity rather than as a stumbling block, to become the country we aspire to be. And perhaps in doing this we can lead the conversation that would bring together the international community on these issues.

Likewise, I would like to believe that when I have children, the lessons would begin early in life – so that as they reached the point of boiling over and potentially becoming someone they might regret – they would take a step back and remember who they are and where they come from, and choose their next steps wisely.

About the Author
Marni Mandell CEO & Co-Founder of CareHood, public speaking coach and mentor to startups and speaker herself. She made aliyah in 2010, and has spent 20 years working in the Jewish community and hi-tech.