Should Israeli government officials and Israel’s shrugging citizens Hellenize their names during Hanukkah? Are we all Hellenized Jews?

Hanukkah celebrates the victory of Jewish spirituality over Greek materialism. Seeing that Judaism places an emphasis on the interchangeability of past, present and future as well as the unity of all existence, this holiday is extremely relevant in our age of globalization.

An example of Hanukkah is a film of just over two minutes showing a businessman in Chicago in the early 20th century entering a theater where Cantor Yossele Rosenblatt is giving a live concert. Gradually his face lights up and one minute and 36 seconds into the film the man imagines that he is transported to the Eastern European synagogue of his childhood. The cantor is now singing in a shul in which all eight candles are aflame.

However it is difficult for a small country to become a strong economic and military power on spirituality alone. How does the world’s 98th country by population and 149th by size survive as a superpower? All able-bodied citizens enlist in the army and a large number of people work a couple of jobs on Third-World salaries. The elderly, Holocaust survivors and the poor – as well as most working people – accept the fact that some of their living standards are comparable to that of those in the poorest countries. It is regarded as an acceptable price for living in freedom in a Jewish country.

When will they give us a break?

However the actions and comments of government ministers as well as news reports are often so ludicrous that one is left wondering if these are serious or if they are just pulling our leg. Are government officials planning to go so far with pushing the privatization of essential services down the country’s throat that only when Donald Trump steps in and says: “Aw, c’mon stop being so greedy and give those poor people a break!” they’ll start to reconsider?

After all, the Hellenized Jews were doing what was in the best interests of their country. Who decides when international companies which pollute the environment and earn exorbitant profits at the expense of the common man and the public budget are going too far? Does it matter if they are foreign or Israeli? What about Israeli policies and cutbacks which are detrimental to the (rest of the) public budget and the pockets of the average citizen but are beneficial to large companies and a small elite? Do the people of the world really care if these companies and individuals are for or against the state of Israel? And who is the worse Hellenist, the policymakers or the apathetic citizens who shrug their shoulders and do nothing?

Public transport

Recently an official who defended public transport policies said on morning television that while slowing down in his car he had seen with his own eyes how public transport had improved. Instead of looking at statistics with shekel, euro or dollar signs (the more power and money involved = the less objective the statistic) policymakers should consider the affect of policies on the environment and citizens. Having had considerable experience with the Dutch public transport system for more than three decades, I arrived at the conclusion that the (partial) privatization of public transport has been a disaster.

Dutch society is basically Hellenistic (some two-thirds of the people define themselves as atheist or agnostic, while less than one percent of the landscape in the Netherlands consists of undisturbed nature). Not only have huge sums of money been spent on automated systems which are incredibly foolish and do not work, but if you are ten cents short or cannot pay for an expensive ticket you are liable to be thrown off the train, trolley or bus. Public transport workers are asked the following question before being hired: “If an old lady on the way to the hospital for some reason has neither enough money nor a pass would you let her get on anyway?” If you answer in the affirmative you are not hired. Public transport workers in the Netherlands are the target of so much aggression and so many attacks that few succeed in working until retirement age. When I arrived in Israel I was amazed to see that bus drivers work beyond retirement age and that they are actually friendly and helpful. Later, I was shocked to see that soulless bureaucrats are introducing an automated Dutch-like system on busline 1 (connecting Petach Tikva and Bat Yam).

Wolves in one of the world’s most expensive cities: Tel Aviv

A couple from London visited their son and family in Tel Aviv in November. In a letter to The Jerusalem Post they wrote: “We have just stayed in Tel Aviv, visiting my son and family, and it saddens me to report that at every opportunity, we were overcharged in restaurants, by taxi drivers and even in supermarkets, often by up to NIS 100 at a time. I am told that we ‘look like tourists.’ Is it our fault that we are seen as targets to be cheated?”

Of course this is an international problem. Since shopkeepers see tourists as people who earn some four times as much in their home countries, they think it is acceptable to charge them more. But the situation is even worse for people who live here, work for less than eight dollars an hour and cannot afford to buy simple necessities or eat in restaurants. Is there any reason to earn profits of hundreds or thousands of a percent except for greed? Why not compete fairly instead of enforcing some sort of price monopoly?

Health and greed in medicine

Earlier this year yet another news report appeared stating that the effects of the long-term use of aspirin are even more beneficial than previously believed. Was the price of aspirin lowered and were people encouraged to take the willow bark extract? No, the price only increased. Bayer and Teva have a monopoly on the sale of aspirin, which was first synthesized by a Jewish doctor at the end of the 19th century. In 1934 the German authorities claimed that aspirin was first synthesized by an “Aryan”; however this claim is no longer taken seriously, with the exception of Bayer’s PR department.

Now Teva has joined the fray. Both Bayer and Teva have a monopoly on the sale of aspirin even though the patent has long expired; they charge huge sums of money for a medicine which costs a few cents to make. So health care systems and consumers pay a fortune while company executives and stockholders add to their millions.

Heroic stance against beverages industry

Meanwhile Israeli Health Minister Yaakov Litzanopoulos earns rave reviews in the religious media for his heroic stance against the beverages industry. Of course credit should be given where credit is due and few are as thrifty and environmentally friendly as the religious. They help one another and do not waste anything. Unlike many non-religious charity organisations, bureaucratic agencies and private parties involved in charity.

However on dozens of other health-related issues the minister is amazingly silent. As long as government funds keep supporting the religious community there is no reason why every single religious child cannot benefit from a lifetime of studying the Talmud. Working and volunteer work is viewed as an insult. Don’t the greatest scholars say that having some kind of experience in life is not important in the least? Whoops!

About the Author
Asaf Shimoni is an author, journalist and translator who returned to Israel in 2016 after spending 40 years abroad, most of them in the Netherlands. He grew up near Boston, made aliyah while living on a kibbutz (from 1973 to 1976), and graduated from Syracuse University in 1978. He also lived some 5 years in Sicily. He believes that the media should be as critical and truthful as possible.
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