Judy Halper
Left is not a dirty word

Hebrew word of the year: Bol’an

If sinkholes that swallow cars are the unintended consequences of short-sighted policies and willful ignorance, what devastation can we expect from this government?
(Hazarti, Wikimedia Commons)
(Hazarti, Wikimedia Commons)

Bol’an — sinkhole — was voted the word of the year, according the Hebrew news site Ynet. It comes from the word “to swallow.” If you have a biblical bent of mind, you can imagine.

Yet another bol’an opened up in a road on Saturday, this one in the middle of Allenby Street in Tel Aviv. Despite the temptation to look at the alarming spate of recent sinkhole openings as divine punishment, the real causes have to do with mundane mechanics — reckless building practices and over-pumping of underground water.

It may not be celestial retribution, but it does seem symbolic. We’ve gone from cracks that can be plastered over, to cracks that have to be carefully stepped over, to treacherous holes big enough to swallow a car. I’m referring, of course, to our government, and the barely paved-over system they are trying to instill.

Like builders out to make a quick profit, our new government ministers have taken large jackhammers to the ground-level foundations of our country, tearing them up as fast as they can with no regard for the consequences. When dangerous holes are revealed, it will be someone else’s job to plug them. The new buildings will already be towering over our heads.

Except that the first bol’an has already formed, and it opened right under the feet of one of those ministers. And like the sinkholes opening along the coast, it has less to do with acts of a divine being (though there might be some kind of justice there, if it were the case) and more to do with human folly. I’m referring, of course, to Aryeh Deri. His shiny edifice was built on the porous bedrock of greed and ill use of public trust. Thinking he would be able to float above the thinly-disguised hole, or that others would carry him over, he fell right in.

It won’t be the last sinkhole. The government, in light of the newest disaster, has vowed to get even bigger jackhammers. I would like to believe the architects of the new system will be the ones to fall into holes of their own making, but that is generally not the case. None of us is truly safe from them.

Bol’anim (the plural form of bol’an) are the unintended consequences of shortsighted policies, population pressures, lack of oversight, shortcuts, money changing hands between contractors and municipal officials, and willful ignorance. Predictions are rampant about the unintended consequences of the government’s rush to tear down and rebuild in its image. (The end of democracy? That’s a mighty big sinkhole, but one that is entirely conceivable.) A new intifada? Another war? A widespread boycott of Israel? The increased flight of young, secular, educated people (leading to further consequences)?

It’s time we started preventing both kinds of bol’an. Protecting coastal cities from the first kind will require the investment of resources and updating and enforcement of building codes and environmental laws. Protecting ourselves from the second kind could be harder. It will probably require nothing less than bringing down the current government. And it seems we have little time to waste.

About the Author
Judy Halper is a member of a kibbutz in the center of the country. She has worked as a dairywoman, plumber and veggie cook, and as a science writer. Today she volunteers in Na'am Arab Women in the Center and works part time for Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom.
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