Poland and Israel before elections — reflections, on the bus…

"On the bus from Be'er Sheva" Photo credit: Basia Monka

Last Friday, I was on the bus from Be’er Sheva to Tel Aviv, it was my second bus already that day, on the radio there was Limahl and Spice Girls. When I first visited Israel it was 1993, a year before the band was created, and I was a teenager, who was mostly hitchhiking, not taking buses that summer. Still this long Friday bus journey, and the music on the radio took me back in time.

I was never on Taglit program, I was discovering Israel together with a friend. Two fearless teens, across the country, including Hebron. Crazy, good times. As humans we tend to idealize our past. The food in Israel was affordable, Mea Shearim in Jerusalem was more open (I walked there with my friend wearing leggings, and no one was throwing stones at us, as I hear could have happened nowadays). The night life in Jerusalem was fantastic, dances on tables… I could list more. My first summer in Israel – everything was better.

On the bus from Be’er Sheva to Tel Aviv, last Friday, set next to me an old lady in a typical religious scarf covering her hair. Esther from a little town in the south of Israel. Old people often have that charm of unknown world, something from old pictures or movies. Ester made aliyah from Morocco, just after her wedding age 14. Her husband was 29. She had her first child at 15, has 5 children, 21 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren. As we were talking she was treating me with some salty snacks, and did not take ‘no’ as an answer.  She told me is a volunteer in the IDF and while we were talking, she was embroidering the chala cover. Ah, and she told me that by age 18 girls are too old to get married, well… now it all make sense, I joked silently.

My great-grandmother, back in my grandfather’s Opole Lubelskie or Bilgoraj, the town she was from, in Poland, was married just after her Bat Mitzva, at age 12. The next day she took of her wig covering her shaved had, and went to play with other children on the street. Her husband, my great-grandfather was respectful, to wait for her untill she was 16. At least that’s what my family tradition says.

Esther, on the that bus, was longing for Morocco. How beautiful, and quiet it was. “Arabs were different – she said – we worked with them, we lived together, not like here, where is always fear of terror attacks.” I did not want to dig the subject, knowing the history of Jews being thrown away from Arab countries with one suitcase. This was her memory, her nostalgia. And who know, maybe the truth.

The same Friday, at the Shabbat dinner at my friend’s home in Tel Aviv, for some strange reason I was telling stories about my childhood in communist Poland. Across the table, there were four eyes growing big, as they realized how old I must be. From the different time zone.

Telling them about Martial Law, the rations for food, about the fake chocolate, and passports closed in the offices, not at home; the need for official permission to travel, people had to ask for. And about the change of the political system, that started in Poland with the first free elections on June 4th, 1989, followed by the changes in Germany, Czechoslovakia and the rest of this part of Europe. I sounded to them like Ester from Morocco to me. From the different reality, difficult not comprehend.

30 years ago some of my friends were not born yet. One of them, 29 years musician, recently explained to his international friends, that “there were border controls in Europe once,” as he does not remember Poland from times before it being a part of European Union…

30 years ago, Poland became free, Tadeusz Mazowiecki became the first non-communist prime minister of Poland. This is very strange to be that old, to remember well what happened 30 years ago. But this is also a privilege, to remember the joy and hope, and the trust in politicians people voted for. In 2019 trust and politics sound like a contradiction. In any place of globe. Having two passports, I have a right to vote in Poland and Israel. Soon in both countries there will be elections.  And I think never before, sadly, the situation in both countries was not so mirror alike, as it is now. The lack of a solid opposition, coalitions built only for the sake of elections. The strong, too personal friendship with Donald Trump, flattering for the moment for the leaders, but leading to the international isolation, dangerous for the future both of Poland and Israel. In both countries those specific elections seem pointless, when the results are almost known. But there is this “almost” that obligates to vote.

During my first summer in Israel, weeks before the Oslo Accords, my understating of Israeli politics was very general and vague. But there was some hope in the air. Being an Israeli for over five years, my political knowledge is still not as that profound as in case of my first homeland. But one thing I am certain of, as long as we can vote, we must vote. So in the next 30 years someone will still have a chance to vote, and will say with nostalgia or without it: “in the times when I was 12 or 15…”. The democracy is not given forever. And should not be treated as a joke. Nowhere in the world.

About the Author
By education, Basia Monka is a psychologist. In Poland, she has worked as a journalist, an assistant director, and a Jewish educator; In Israel, she was a travel agent and a searcher of the unknown in the future. Always, she is passionate about culture and traveling.
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