The siren has sounded for Israel’s fallen, and it is now Independence Day. We invite you to view and pass on our info page, where the new article below now appears.
Udi & Mal Ohana
INDEPENDENCE DAY – 2007
Israelis are a polyglot mix of varied geographical, ethnic and religious origin. The State of Israel is only 59 years old, yet the complexity of its history, the interaction between the various sectors of its diverse
population, and its religious sectarianism – all give rise to an explosive melting pot of vast dimensions.
A few days ago, life came to a total standstill while the two-minute commemorative siren wailed in remembrance of the Holocaust victims. Everything came to a stop – except for the ultra-Orthodox, for whom such a tradition is alien, regarded as “gentile” in origin, and therefore taboo – rather like army service, I guess.
In fact, in one State Religious (i.e. government-funded) school, several girls who respected the siren, and stood in silence for those two minutes, were severely reprimanded by the school principal, and told to recite psalms, while standing, for the rest of the school day. A former Chief Rabbi of Israel, in a radio broadcast on the eve of Holocaust Memorial Day, even blamed the Reform movement in Germany for having angered God in the 1930s, and triggering the Holocaust – as a divine punishment.
Despite the siren, and the day-round TV and radio broadcasts, the attention paid by Israeli governments – past and present – to the victims who actually survived the Holocaust is deplorable. Around half a million Holocaust survivors are still alive today. Half of these survivors live in Israel – though they are dying off at the rate of about two thousand each month. It is estimated that one-third of the survivors in Israel live in dire poverty. Haven’t they suffered enough? They clung to life though the most terrible period of history, yet now, In Israel, they don’t have enough money for food, clothes, heating or medicine. Instead of providing for their needs with reparation funds received for this purpose from Germany, the government puts petty bureaucratic hurdles in their way. In a country that spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on memorial services for the dead victims of the Holocaust, I am personally ashamed that funds are not made available
to enable this small population of living victims to live out the remainder of their lives in relative comfort.
Billionaire Arkady Gaydamak is a controversial figure on the Israeli scene. Whether you see him as a fugitive from justice, or a modern-day Robin Hood, his philanthropic efforts – in erecting a tent city on Nitzanim Beach and providing three square meals a day for thousands of shell-shocked residents of northern Israel during the Second Lebanon War last summer, presenting a weekend respite from the daily rockets to 800 Sderot residents in Eilat, and his current endeavor, organizing free, star-studded Independence Eve and Day
entertainment for the Tel Aviv area, can only be commended. What Mr Gaydamak sees, through his businessman’s glasses, is what most Israeli politicians forgot about long ago – that their first priority should be to take care of the constituents who elected them. With these benevolent activities, Mr Gaydamak has turned himself into a kingmaker – and may well hold the identity of Israel’s next prime minister in his hands.
For Israel to survive the life-or-death predicament in which it now finds itself, all segments of the population have to pull together. In order for the 22,305 servicemen and women who have fallen in Israel’s struggle for
existence, not to have died in vain, we all have to decide that the future existence of a democratic and economically vibrant Israel is more important than the contentious arguments that split our society. “All” means the Orthodox, modern religious, secular, old-timers, new and old immigrants of Moroccan, Russian, Yemenite, Anglo, Ethiopian, European and other origins, right-wing, left-wing, and even – and especially – the Israeli Arabs (who comprise about 20 percent of the general population).
I believe that religion and state cannot and should not coexist in the Israeli political arena. The large majority of Israelis want to live in a democracy, not a theocracy. Religious leaders should stop meddling in politics, and go back to making Judaism the meaningful, caring, life-embracing religion that I remember from the Diaspora.
I further believe that the elitism and laissez-faire mentality of the Israeli establishment is what has led to the present wave of corruption and scandal. If we want Israel to continue to exist, with a strong leadership
and efficient government that can lead us through these difficult days, there is no longer any room for elitism or sectarianism. We need to seek unity, and leaders with integrity and vision to guide us toward peace and
coexistence – with each other and with our neighbors. This is the only way forward.