Springtime suggests “renewal” and allows even the most pessimistic souls to appear to be less grumpy. I am one of those people who, despite appearing upbeat and seeing the glass as half full most of the time, embrace the warming season with both arms and a joyful shout. Anything is possible when the sun is shining. I find myself poring over newspapers and internet in order to check out walking tours, campsite entrance fees, under-the-stars classical concerts and schoolyard antique fairs.
Parks and beaches throughout Israel are beginning to fill with Frisbee-throwing, sandwich-eating people as the bone-chilling cold of this past winter fades happily into memory. In saying goodbye to winter, most Israelis remain grateful for the copious rainfall we received and happy with the news that Lake Kinneret has risen impressively. Although water levels are still lower than the normal reading, there seems to be a freer-than-normal attitude to water-fun vacations in the north of the country.
So what is this subtle nagging that lies beneath the surface of my otherwise placid mien? Searching for a jar of date honey in the overstuffed pantry, I suddenly came across an opened box of matzah, left over from last month’s Passover observance. Breaking off a piece to smear with my favorite apricot jam, I found myself transported, suddenly, to the final section of the Seder where we are instructed to eat the afikoman, ensuring that the taste of humility and redemption linger in our mouths long after dessert has been digested. Was I still feeling humble and grateful for my personal geulah from a prison called Egypt? Do I remember each day the things that God has done for me?
When I came to Israel nearly 17 years ago, I was ineligible for assistance from any sector. Because legal constraints were imposed on me that required me to remain a tourist for the non-foreseeable future, I was denied discounts on appliances, paid full price for language classes that were provided free-of-charge for immigrants, received no tax breaks for anything and truly suffered. Nefesh B’Nefesh had yet to be created, and existing government frameworks for immigrant absorption were weak/non-existent on their best day. Many who made aliyah at the same time as I did returned to America both crestfallen and sporting bitter attitudes toward Israel. Even today, I’m quite an outsider in my reclaimed homeland and do not have any close Israeli friends. Still, I’ve accepted this reality as the price one pays for uprooting herself and believe that my children will have an easier time of fitting in than their mom.
This morning my daughter, again, brought several liters of bottled water to the Ethiopian protest tent next to the Prime Minister’s home. This daily/sometimes nightly vigil of hers has created a lot of heated discussion in our home, beginning at Pesach, and shows no sign of abating. The tent was erected almost immediately after the Gilad Shalit gazebo was dismantled, and sloppily painted signs denouncing “Israeli racism” were quickly hoisted, replacing large photos of the captured (and subsequently released) Israeli soldier. All of this occurred at the height of the Jewish and Christian tourist season.
Opinions at my holiday table were mixed as some felt that the Ethiopian Jews were being sold a protest policy by outside inciters who are using the cause for their own political advancement and, as history has shown, will abandon them the moment a better cause célèbre arises. Some felt that their charges of discrimination are fully justified and cited several blatant examples of exclusion based on skin color. One guest gently reminded all present that Israel is only 64 years old and has made mega strides in terms of immigrant absorption and will not offer anything less to those who came via the aegis of the respective 1984 Operation Moses and 1991 Operation Solomon. Despite my steadfast opposition to this protest, I was happily surprised to hear my daughter deliver forceful arguments on behalf of the protestors and deflect the surrounding criticism with relative aplomb and no histrionics. My oldest son responded to Ethiopian charges with cogent descriptions of hardships faced by immigrant groups both in Israel and the United States, resulting in tales of perseverance and success. The Yemenites, the Moroccans, the Russians; “Now it’s the Ethiopians’ turn. Why must they have shortcuts that others weren’t afforded?” As the volume rose and the discussion grew more heated, words and phrases such as “entitlement” and “Affirmative Action” were bandied about and the yom tov mood suddenly morphed, resembling the 1972 bombing of Hanoi.
My husband – usually silent and happy to observe my offspring “go at it” – spoke up.
“The Ethiopians will get absorbed into Israel just the way all of the other groups were. They will marry Israelis and the army will blur all distinctions, adding them to the tossed salad. You know who will never fit in? Anglos. Because the only way to be Israeli is to become Israeli and the only way for an Anglo to get accepted is to give up everything western. Moroccans are Moroccan Israelis. Yemenites are Yemenite Israelis. And Ethiopians – even with their dark skin or because of their dark skin – will be Ethiopian Israelis. English speakers just don’t make the cut; we live parallel lives despite being the most Zionist of the entire lot.”
Ironically, everyone agreed and raised examples of “exclusion” that seemed pointed toward Anglos. Once they were able to agree on that one point, Ronney challenged them to another “ism” that seemed to fall beneath their moral radar.
“It takes everyone time, sometimes more than a generation, to have a chance to prove himself according to his ability. But just try proving yourself or standing on history or laurels when you’re older. Who will give a job to an immigrant accountant who is 60 years old in this country? He can sit home and wait to be rewarded for his aptitude or drive a delivery truck. If a doctor from Wisconsin can’t take her qualifying examination in Hebrew, she isn’t given a ‘grade curve’ to compensate for a lack of language proficiency. And if you want to take a course in Tel Aviv University to become certified in your field, your work is due at the same time as the native speakers, even if it means that you have to glue yourself to Google Translate for an additional twelve hours. Where is your umbrage?
“Can ‘pride’ be legislated? I think not,” he continued. “Pride is something earned – not demanded – and it is the stuff that creates family history, giving all of us something to strive for. When you talk about us in fifty years, it would make me happy to think that we were remembered for being ‘grateful for our lot,’ joyous for the chance to live in Israel at any cost.
“Both your mother and I are ‘under-recognized and under-compensated.’ What is it that kids say? ‘Suck it up.’ We had our chances and now it’s your turn. You can ‘demand’ fairness or just get down, dirty and do the job. Who knows?
“You might even find ‘honor’ in the process.”