I was going to skip writing a column this week. I like to write about upbeat topics, but there is so much negativity in the air due to the rift about the judicial reforms.
In truth, life in Ramat Beit Shemesh goes on as usual. At least for me. Luckily, no one in my family has gotten stuck in demonstration-related traffic. We did not miss any medical appointments due to the strike. We flew to and from New York before the airport shut down.
All in all, the demonstrations have not affected our day-to-day lives much. But the news is very disturbing. I’ll spare you the gory details, which you can see for yourselves in the media. Finding a positive spin on all of this is challenging, but I search high and low to find that silver lining. Even in these difficult times, there is much to grab onto.
The first thing that comes to mind is the moving video that went viral of the secular protester in Bnei Brak who was brought to tears when hearing “Shalom Aleichem” for the first time in decades. His pintele yid was ignited and burned bright as he cried and joined in the song whose words and tune reconnected him to his youth. Watching the residents of Bnei Brak lovingly distribute cholent to those who came to demonstrate against them was a beautiful thing to see. Such a display of warmth in a sea of strife reminds us all that we are all brothers after all.
Of late, my son has been in contact with his secular mefaked machlaka (officer) from his days in the army. They are on opposite sides of the divide but they respectfully discuss the issues of the day. The officer expresses his fear that Israel will become a religious state in which the secular will not have a right to live their lives according to their values. Similarly, the religious fear that the secular will try to rid the country of its Jewish character. Despite all of the differences, my son and his officer manage to find some points of agreement between them. They also agree that we are all brothers and somehow, we must find a way to live together.
Someone who attended the pro-judicial reform rally in Yerushalayim on Monday night shared some of his experiences with me. The right-wing demonstration took place immediately after the left-wing one. The demonstrators from both sides smiled at each other as they passed each other. One right-winger asked a left-winger who was leaving if he could please have the Israeli flag he was waving. The left-winger was happy to oblige and handed his flag over with a smile.
In his speech to the nation, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu compared the current situation to the story of two women who came before Shlomo HaMelech, both claiming to be the mother of the baby they brought with them. Shlomo suggested cutting the baby in half so that each woman could have half the baby. One mother was fine with his suggestion, but the actual mother was willing to give up the baby to her rival so that it would not be cut in half. This reaction revealed the identity of the true mother, who would do anything to help her child survive. Netanyahu called on the citizens of Israel not to tear the nation apart. Irrespective of one’s position on judicial reform, the fact that Netanyahu chose to quote from Sefer Melachim to make his point is quite impressive.
In a special op-ed published by Arutz Sheva-Israel National News, Ofir Korzim, a combat pilot and a leader of the “Achim L’neshek” (Brothers in Arms) protest (anti-judicial reforms), wrote about his trip to Yerushalayim on Monday. Ostensibly he went to demonstrate; however, he suddenly felt a strong desire to meet “the other side.” He spent hours in deep conversation with people he never met, hearing their perspective and getting to know them up close. Then he spent an hour listening to the speeches at the right-wing rally. He observed the dancing in the street and compared it to what he observed on the Ayalon Highway 24 hours before. For Ofir, it was a spontaneous and moving spiritual experience. Now understanding the pain of the other side, he encourages those who are against the reforms to connect with the other side and get to know them. He also suggests that they do some introspection regarding the way they are conducting their struggle and think about how to reach their goals by coming to a broad agreement. Ofir attached a photo of himself with a Gerrer Chasid, who explained to him that the son-in-law of the Gerrer Rebbe was a signatory on Israel’s Declaration of Independence. In other words, he too is an integral part of Israeli society.
Someone posted on his Facebook page what happened to him on the way to the demonstration on Monday. He and many others were riding up on the escalators from the subway in Yerushalayim. As fate would have it, at the same time, left-wing protesters who had just finished their demonstration were riding down the escalators. At first, there was tension in the air. But then spontaneously, demonstrators from both sides of the debate began giving each other “five” from both sides of the escalators. They also drew hearts in the air and blew kisses to each other. They were acknowledging the fact that even if they disagree, they are still part of the same nation. Then someone began singing “Am Yisrael Chai,” and everyone joined in together. What a beautiful moment. When Am Yisrael is one, we are chai!
Chag kasher v’sameach!