I dread the holidays in Israel. What should be a season of connection, celebration and observance for me is an isolating, lonely experience. I cannot wait for the holidays to be over. I count the hours. I wasn’t always like this.
I used to love the autumn holidays. I love the time of year, I love the honey and apples and the solemnity of Yom Kippur. I love seeing the sukkot and children playing.
Israelis are nothing if they are not inclusive and generous. I have been bowled over, since I made aliyah 2 ½ years ago, by the warmth and support I have received. I often get invited to holidays and Shabbat. But I usually cannot accept because I have no way to get there and whomever invited me cannot always go out of their way and get me, round trip, when they are trying to cook and visit with their own families. They do, sometimes. But I know I am a burden.
There are two or three congregations in Tel Aviv, like White City Shabbat, that I would love to join up with and experience. I have never once been to a service since I have lived here because I cannot get there and home again.
Since I made aliyah, I observe the holidays but I do not celebrate. I am alone. I try – I shop, I light the candles, I do my thing. But it’s really not the same, is it? Not when it’s every week and every holiday.
There’s one thing between me and being really included and that’s the undue influence of ultra-orthodox religious laws on the Ministry of Transport’s policies.
It is no secret that the Haredi have had a major impact on bus policy in Israel, ranging from this man’s positive impact (which I have yet to see or benefit from but maybe…) to the establishment and later dissolution of mehadrin bus lines.
A religious law that isolates people – particularly olim – is totally counter-productive. It discriminates against those of us who do not keep shomer shabbat, against those of us without the financial means to hire a taxi for expensive rides (with Shabbat and holiday rates added), against those with disabilities that prevent them from driving, against those without family nearby and against those without the means to own a car. It discriminates, in other words, against anybody who is not dati, with a lifestyle and support system built right into that.
Being able to celebrate and study together with others on holidays and Shabbat should not be a zero sum proposition. It should be a right. How I get there should not be legislated by a minority who live, let’s be honest, in a fashion that most of us do not. I have respect for the ultra-orthodox. I wish they’d have just the tiniest bit of respect for me.
But that’s not really their job, is it? Or their concern. Is it the job and the concern of the government to take care of the needs of all its citizens, left, right, center, secular and non. I understand and respect the religious laws in Israel, but they are overbearing and totally out of touch with the majority of Israelis.
Israel places much emphasis on attracting olim. For us, a chance to live in Israel is like a dream. We make many sacrifices to be here and we try to be good citizens after we have arrived. But the very government that encourages us to come does not take care of us in a very basic way.
For busses to run on a limited, holiday basis on Shabbat and other holidays would help so many of us living in Israel to be more connected to this country and why we came here. It would, in many cases, actually help us get to beit knesset, something that the ultra-orthodox make a zero sum game of – do it our way or you don’t get to do it at all. Unless you live as we do and can walk.
The government must acknowledge that the majority of its citizens do not live in this way and that we also have rights and needs. The rulings made on barring gender separation were a great step forward for an Israel in the 21st century. But the Ministry of Transport has miles to go.
To learn more about this issue and to hear personal stories about public transportation, discrimination and the resultant isolation for many Israelis, check out this Facebook page.