The horrific rape in Gan Haair, in central Tel Aviv over the weekend, comes to us on the heels of the gruesome murder in Beersheba, stabbings in Netanya and across the country and senior municipality officials allegedly involved in a sex scandal in Kiryat Malachi. One incident follows another, at a rate that seems to be increasing. Israeli society has suddenly revealed its neglected, dilapidated backyard, and it’s open for all to see. Personal safety is slipping away.
In the face of all this violence, there is a communication breakdown. The language is violent. Reactions are violent. Instead of speaking to one another, people are killing and raping. Dialogue is lost, and with it man’s hope for reaching understanding with his fellow man.
What’s scary about the violence is that it is beginning at such a young age. Gadi Vichman was murdered by a group of teenagers because he asked for quiet and consideration for his sleeping children. We mustn’t assume this can’t happen in our neighborhoods. It could happen in any neighborhood in Israel, and it’s not only related to poverty and social frustrations. We are lacking the ability to listen, to be tolerant, and to open our ears to the distress of the person standing before us. The army can’t be solely to blame for this, nor can the occupation or the social welfare authorities.
What is required is social responsibility on a wider scale than simply blaming one governmental authority or another. We are in the midst of a tumult that doesn’t allow us to listen and hear our brothers — and we are witnesses to where things can deteriorate: murder, stabbings, sexual assault and rape.
It starts at home, with the manner of discourse between a child and his parents. When the parents are powerless against their own child, the result is a child who is powerless against himself and his friends. This dynamic of paralysis leads to unreceptiveness, anger and rage. The lack of ability to speak and communicate leads to using violence as a solution.
I read the newspaper headlines and feel helpless. I ask myself where the boiling point is. What else needs to happen before we wake up? The answer isn’t a simple one. Every moment brings with it a new record for the cruelty running rampant in the streets. But I don’t think the violence is meaningless and can’t receive proper treatment.
These random encounters with violence — one time in a parking garage in Gan Meir in Tel Aviv, the next in a residential neighborhood in Beersheba or the market in Netanya — won’t be solved only by the police, the use of force or imposing the public order. The streets are not a fight club. The streets must be a common place where we can meet one another.
We can, of course, walk around wearing heavy armor, like knights in medieval times, but what would we gain by that? It would only widen the detachment between us. We must bring a new energy to the street, with a shared vision.
The violence spreading among us shows that some of the seams of our society aren’t woven properly and have come undone. Where they have unraveled, we find ourselves in Sodom and Gomorrah. We must mend Israeli society, based on an ethos of dialogue, tolerance and listening. We must give our children hope. We have mouths and ears, so let’s use them.
The candidates running for leadership of the Labor party are good at exposing racism. The phenomenon is not a new one, and has mainly reared its head in the disparaging treatment of Amir Peretz.
I still remember the remarks of Gigi Peres, Shimon Peres’ brother, who said that, “North African phalangists took over the party” after Peretz won the election for Labor chairmanship in 2005. Then, more recently, we heard Isaac “Buji” Herzog describe Peretz to an American colleague using three adjectives: inexperienced, aggressive and Moroccan. And after that Amram Mitzna, a candidate who has no chance and no charisma, claimed, “Herzog and [MK Shelly] Yachimovich have a huge advantage. They are not Amir Peretz. He comes from another land. We can build an effective workforce with them after the election. That didn’t exist in my previous term, when everyone saw only my personal interest. This time it can be different.”
Peretz, who has used his political capabilities to bring an impressive number of new members to the party, has been accused of being an alien. Regardless of whom Labor supporters choose to support, the treatment of Peretz has been outrageous.
It appears that the failed leaders of the Labor party haven’t looked in the mirror lately. They don’t understand that times have changed. Employees at Haifa Chemicals have been striking for nearly two months without the public having heard the voices of the oppressed. In Kiryat Shmona, all of the cultural institutions are shutting down due to debt – an entire city will remain without cultural venues. Say what you will about Peretz, but he is conscious of such enormous social problems and he seeks their resolution. He isn’t from a different planet. He simply adheres to a different ideology.
According to reports, in his remarks about the recent Labor party membership drive, Mitzna said, “Amir Peretz recruits people who don’t belong in the Labor party. He brings hamulot [a derogatory term for extended families or clans]. He is building himself a camp of supporters, so that even if he loses in the primaries, he will be able to impose himself on the winner. I hear horrible things about the membership drive.”
Mitzna apparently doesn’t understand politics. He doesn’t understand that every leader builds a camp of supporters for himself. But, more importantly, he has once again repeated the mantra that Mizrahi Jews are influenced by a herd mentality. It’s a shame that the battle for Labor party leadership has highlighted the division of Israel according to east and west – and implied that if someone is Mizrahi, something is wrong with him, he is an alien, unprofessional, aggressive, or finally, Moroccan.
Hebrew Book Week opens today at a variety of locations throughout Israel. It is a very important national celebration. Book Week provides a necessary horizon for the State of Israel, a cultural horizon. Books and poems enrich the Hebrew language and inspire the necessary renewal of social ideas.
From the dawn of modern Zionism, there has been a struggle between renewing Jewish national self-definition based on political territorialism or based on culture. Menachem Ussishkin viewed nationalism as the urban foundation intimately connected to the holy ground here. Others, among them Ahad Ha’am, wanted to build nationalism based on our inherent cultural characteristics. Book Week in the sovereign state of Israel is the confirmation that Jewish and Israeli cultures are still used as a method for Zionist self-definition. It provides us with a moment to stop, take a deep breath and diversify our ethical choices despite the nuisances of life and existence here.
I think Book Week as is a “religious holiday for Israeliness.” On this holiday, we harvest the first fruits of culture and celebrate an ethical renewal of the citizens of Israel. Books are similar to the first fruits that fall from the trees or wheat harvested in the fields. Poems, reference books and even children’s books need time to ripen. Book Week is a once-a-year opportunity to taste the “first fruits” of the season: new ideas in Israeli society.
Book Week is our spiritual celebration. I would expect the government to promote it in a more meaningful way, as a month-long celebration during which prizes are awarded to the creators. There should be plays and readings in every place and on every corner. Writers are not lacking in Israel, and Book Week is the time to allow them to express themselves in front of broad audiences. It is also a chance for us to get to know our creators.
Since the 1980’s, there seems to have been a fine monolithic ending to what Ben-Gurion prescribed. Israeli culture has opened up to a broader and more varied selection of voices. Groups that were once silenced can finally be heard in cultural centers. A multicultural voice has been created in Israel. Hebrew is a language open to absorbing creations and influences from other languages because it is still developing. Thus Book Week is also a chance to taste from the world’s variety and to expound further on the multiplicity of cultures in Israel.
As a result of cultural barriers breaking down in recent years, we have been exposed to new niches in our own culture as well. Israelis are returning to the Jewish library and renewing their reading of traditional texts. Our ancient set of texts, poetry and books were once a turn-off. Now many Israelis from a generation that once did not know Joseph at all are reading new works that are in dialogue with our rich Jewish past. A change in the cultural trend of Zionism is also taking place. Where once it sought to secularize Jews completely, Zionism is realizing that this is actually an impossible task. This is a very good thing. One cannot speak of the Jewish People and close the door on our traditional texts, nor can one leave these texts only in the hands of the Orthodox and the ultra-Orthodox.
Thus after the religious pilgrimage days of Sukkot, Passover and Shavuot, and the Zionist holidays of Holocaust Memorial Day, Memorial Day for Fallen Soldiers and Independence Day, we finally arrive at Hebrew Book Week. A week that is unique, set aside so that we can think freely and connect to ideas from both past and modern times. We can choose a new societal vision. Book Week provides us with a rich market and a fertile ground for creativity. During Book Week we can connect to the inter-galactic worlds of science fiction or the fantasy world in which there is no state, no army and even no democracy because everything is free and delightful.
Go out and get a taste of Book Week. There you will find true spiritual nourishment.