My dad was a high school teacher, and I was in elementary school when his teachers’ union went on strike. It was winter in Canada, and every day for about a month, my dad would put on his warmest coat and hat and gloves and scarf, and probably goulashes, and join the other teachers on the picket lines with a sign that read “teachers’ working conditions are students’ learning conditions”. That sign stayed in our car for months afterwards and I remember it vividly to this day.
And last week, I proudly printed up my own signs: “There’s no social welfare without democracy” and “Judicial overhaul is a social danger”. Both signs had the hashtag “social workers for democracy”.
On Saturday night, my kids helped me hastily tape the signs onto sticks of bamboo that we found in the yard and, like every Saturday night for the past month, my two older kids (7 and 5) joined me in protesting. We marched onto the main street with 3000 other Israelis from the Negev region, banging drums and blowing horns. My five -year old yelling with everyone: “Shame! Shame! Shame!” “Israel isn’t a dictatorship” “My country has three branches (of government)” and “Democracy! Democracy! Democracy!”. We stayed for the first two speeches and a musical set, and then took the kids home to bed. Saturday night is a school night in Israel.
On Monday, the first reading of the judicial overhaul was up for debate. I decided to strike with another quarter of a million Israelis and protest at the Knesset in Jerusalem. It was obvious to me that my kids would come as well. Snacks of bamba as well as our signs and horns were stashed into the trunk. I turned on Spotify and Waze, and began the drive to my sister’s home just outside of Jerusalem in Mevesert. My stomach was tense, as the stakes for this protest were high, and its success unknown. My children were overly excited for an unexpected adventure and another lively protest.
Along the way, my 7-year-old tried again to explain to my 5-year-old where we were going and why:” It’s like if you are playing soccer, your team doesn’t get to pick the referee”. I caught myself thinking that, at the very least, my children will have memories of democracy in action.
After about 30 minutes, we saw the first group of protestors on a bridge at the Dvir Junction waving Israeli flags. I told my kids to wave back and honked my horn. The excitement began to grow. About 30 minutes later, at the Latrun junction, I started seeing a lineup of cars decorated with slogans of the protest and Israeli flags: “Look! Look! Look how many there are…it doesn’t seem to end!” It was early and the convoy of cars going up to Jerusalem was getting organized. I knew this was only one of many convoys and it was huge. I had to hold back tears so I could see the road. After twenty minutes, we got to another bridge decorated with banners and flags. We honked, joined in by other drivers, and my kids waved.
From there on, I knew the protest was going to be huge. Everyone seemed to be heading to the protest, or at least commenting on it. While waiting for the bus from Meveseret, I got encouragement from many strangers who saw my children and the signs: ” Protest while you still have the right” they warned. “Your children won’t forget this” they promised.
But it was outside the Jerusalem train station that I heard it: a mass of people standing on the escalators below, waiting to rise up and flood the streets. The noise couldn’t be ignored. There were waves of people coming from every direction. Blue and white could be seen kilometers ahead of us and kilometers behind us. And the noise vibrated from every corner: “Democracy! Democracy! Democracy!”
It was like being outside Maple Leaf Stadium in Toronto before a playoff game, only much, much bigger. We began to walk, my sister, brother in law and I. We held onto the kids, scared that if they got out of eye sight, we wouldn’t be able to find them in the crowds.
At least half a dozen social workers approached me about my signs: Where did you get them? Can we have one too? And so it was that the noise from the protest began to break down the despair that lined my stomach.
We persevered through the crowds and managed to get a view of the actual Knesset building. I held each of my children in turn so they could get a glimpse of where the hopes and dreams of a Jewish democratic state convened. And where those same hopes and dreams may or may not be shattered.
After my five-year-old succumbed to exhaustion and napped on the grass, we marched onto the roads and through a tunnel, the drums’ echo vibrating beneath our feet: “Israel is not a dictatorship! Israel is not a dictatorship!”
And then, because we were with young kids, we took them for ice cream in the market before heading home.
And I looked at them, their eyes wide with anticipation of their treat, and felt, for the first time since the elections, a tiny glimmer of hope.