This posting is going to be quite long, intentionally direct and personal. I make no apology.
To say the least, you could describe me at the present time as sad, upset, emotional and yet, determined.
On Monday, July 24, we went up to Jerusalem. I always feel good “going up” to the capital of my country, where the words of G-d arise and the aura of spirituality, through thousands of years of history, spreads itself across the people, regardless of personal affiliation or identity.
Usually our trips to Jerusalem are to enjoy ourselves, show around visitors to our beautiful country or to participate in a cultural event. Yesterday, it was for a different reason. It was to join the thousands outside the Knesset demonstrating against the upcoming vote in the Knesset on the Reasonableness Law.
The atmosphere was uplifting; people were handing out water, sharing fruit and sweets and singing, as well as chanting – “democracy lives”, “freedom shall not pass” and more. There was no bad spirit and even the handful of pro-reform demonstrators were treated with civil discussion on their views and why they were wrong.
I told one pro-reform demonstrator that he was lucky he was in Israel among this crowd. In the UK where I once lived, he would have been, at best jostled, at worst hurt, for expressing a different view at such a demonstration. He would have had to be rescued by the police and treated in hospital for his injuries. Instead, he was given a sweet. Indeed, yesterday the police were given sweets as well as the medics who were there in the blazing heat to treat people who got unwell.
You are probably asking why I am so concerned about the current judicial reform. After all, wouldn’t one rather be doing other things? Yes, you are right. I would much prefer to be doing other things. On a trip to Jerusalem I would rather be walking around the Old Station or up and down Emek Refaim looking in the shops and being persuaded by the one I love that there is no need to buy another ornament for our home; “we have enough already!”
But then again there comes a time when one is faced with a situation that threatens to attack one’s very belief structure, that one must put aside the pleasures of life to protect the very way of life that provides those pleasures.
That might sound like an overstatement, but to me it is not.
You see, I first made aliyah with my parents at the age of 10 in 1965. At that time, Israel was in its very early stages as an independent State. It was creating its foundations, not only in physical terms, but also in its visions of what it should aspire to be for all its citizens, knowing that it would face a war for its very existence in a short space of time.
For me, the land rose up through my feet and planted in me a spirit of Zionism that encapsulated the moral standing of Judaism of democracy, equality and human rights that so empowered its very development.
My parents’ aliyah was unsuccessful – it was a most difficult period in Israel at that time – and we left. I remember standing with my late younger brother looking out over the bay of Haifa on the night before we left and promising myself that I would return to my Zionist homeland one day.
It took me just over 40 years to do so, when in 2007, together with with my beloved Janine, we made aliyah. In my heart I still held on to the Zionist vision that had become well founded in the now well developed State. Israel was not perfect, but any of its problems were our problems and we had the right as a sovereign entity to put them right and be a paradigm for the world. This was the dream.
But this dream has been interrupted with images that wake you up in the night in a sweat. These images are of a government destined to change the very nature of Israeli society, to undermine the very bases of our foundations. Instead of being a paradigm we have become a fragmented society, torn in two by a leadership anathema to our very belief structure.
Where does Judaism call for the type of behaviour espoused by these people? Nowhere, or at least not in the Judaism I know and in which I was educated.
My Judaism calls for, no, demands the highest moral standing, of caring for one’s fellow human beings and pursuing the greatest ethical standards. We aspire to Rabbi Akiva’s teaching: “Love your fellow human.”
Where is the love of their fellow humans from Rotman, Smotrich and Ben Gvir, with whom Netanyahu has established a government of ill repute, of individuals who in any other country would be members of the ultra right wing parties against whom we would be duty bound to fight.
And so, I demonstrate against them and their ilk, as I fought against the National Front and their like in the UK and demonstrated against Enoch Powell and his racist commentary when he was a member of the UK government.
Now let me return to the demonstration in Jerusalem yesterday.
As the news of the vote in the Knesset came through on loudspeakers people were stunned into silence. There was disbelief that this is where our country now stands: on the verge of a downward spiral to becoming a less than democratic State. People cried, from the very young to the very old.
You may think this an overreaction but you forget a number of things.
The people who cried are not just anybody one meets in one’s lifetime.
They are those who have lost loved ones in the defense of this country, and now believe that the loss of their beloved was in vain; they are the descendants of those who went through the gates of hell, came out the other side and raised families in our beloved land; they are those who came out of the mellahs of North Africa; those who walked through Sudan until they were airlifted to Israel on Israeli planes flown by Israeli pilots; they are those who fulfilled their desire to return to their ancient homeland on the “wings of Eagles” as prophesied in our writings of old; and they are those born here, in our land, to parents who have seen many wars and prayed for the day when their children will not have to go to war, and yet are prepared to let them; and they are those who came to this country of their own free will to live here in hope of a better life, not necessarily materially, but qualitatively; and they are those tall strong men and women, with rugged expressions on their faces, who have seen the hardest of battles, our “Brothers and Sisters in Arms”.
All of them cried unabashedly and without shame.
Their dreams have been dashed and returning to those dreams will take some time. But return we shall, because this fight is not over.
We shall keep up this justified peaceful “uprising” for as long as it takes, so that once again we can fall asleep in peace and quietude and renew the dream.