Monday, April 23, 2012

A Nightmare

Guest Post by Yossi Ginzberg

Update sent by R’ Yossi:

Due to my error, I sent the wrong copy of this post to Reb Harry. The correct one had this short paragraph as an introduction:

The thoughts of Orthodox Jews, at this time of year, turn to the issues illustrated by the story of Rabbi Akiva’s students. Whether you take the story literally, that they were deficient in mutual respect, or whether you take the story as a metaphor involving the Bar-Kochva rebellion, the point remains that our history is replete with failures at mutual cooperation between factions. The fact that Yom Haatzmaut (with its attendant politics) is also in the air is a similar issue.

We recently read in the Hagadda, “Shelo Echad Bilvad Amad Aleinu”, usually interpreted as that we have enemies in every generation. I once saw, I think from the Kotzker Rebbe Zt”L, that he read it differently, as that BECAUSE we were not united as one, we were destined or doomed to relive this disunity in every generation.

I mean the following not as a prediction, Chalila, nor as a real fear: I do not think this will happen, and certainly pray it will not. Rather, I mean this simply as food for thought. No matter what your politics are, the issues in Israel are worrisome, and all sides bear blame.

(The following submission is posted without comment and does not necessarily reflect my views. But it is definitely food for thought - HM.)

The Chassidim in Meah Shearim were burning trash bins again, rioting over some imagined insult, and the police were ineffectively dealing with it, indiscriminately breaking heads and ensuring future generations of rioters.

Meanwhile, there was a large sit-in preventing the construction of a resort hotel in Ashkelon, a project that would purportedly change the economy of the city drastically.  The protesters claimed that a 2000-year-old Jewish grave lay beneath the site, while archeologists insisted the grave was that of a Phoenician idol-worshipper as they had found idols among the bones.

The media warned that the stoppage would bankrupt the construction company, cause a recession in the city, and enforce the Charedi stranglehold on the economy. They pointed out that 40% of the Israeli population were paying 90% of the taxes, and that the booming Charedi and Arab birthrates would mean that within another decade 75% of schoolchildren would presumably be non-Zionists, and another decade later the bulk of the population would be (at least to some extent) living on the public dole.

At the same time, the Knesset was being held hostage by the representative of the right-wing Orthodox party, as he filibustered demanding parallel bus lines segregated by gender for the whole country.

Competing for space on the front pages of the Israeli papers were the twin trials of the Rabbanut rabbis entrusted with conversion (who were accused of soliciting bribes) and the rabbis entrusted with Kashrut, who were accused of forcing hotels and restaurants to hire unnecessary staff for their personal gain. 

Meanwhile, several other political parties were making news demanding the repatriation of several American fraudsters and sexual offenders who were living as free men in Israel under the law of return. They claimed that since Lansky had been deported, these people should also be deported even though they were unlikely to be allowed to wear Shtreimels in American prisons.

Coincidentally, terrorism too started again making news, with some Homicide-bomb attacks and several incidents on the new Jerusalem light rail, which makes for easy access to the city center from Arab neighborhoods.  Likewise, peace activists confronted Israeli military at the checkpoints, while more flotillas assembled themselves offshore.

Ahmadinajad warned that his bomb was nearing completion, and that his intent was still as firm as ever, to destroy Israel at any cost.  Other Arab countries applauded him, while the UN did nothing.  The American presidential campaign obfuscated the US reply: The Republicans claimed Obama would sit by and let it happen, while the Democrats insisted that Obama was effectively acting behind the scenes.

The Israeli elections barely made the news anymore, with so many other important domestic issues taking all the space.

Exactly what the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back was, we’ll never know, but the most popular and eloquent  politician today, Yair Lapid, held a news conference that would change the headlines dramatically: He announced that he was abandoning his quest for office, and was in fact simply fed yup.  He was leaving the country with his family on a one-way trip to the United States. He had enough with corruption, with fear, with being coerced, and simply wasn’t going to take it anymore, he said. He recalled the old movie line, “I’m mad as heck and I’m not gonna take it anymore”.

His announcement was totally unexpected, and as such commanded much attention. Certainly, he had no idea what he was starting, but within hours hundreds of secular Israelis also announced the same intentions.
By the next day, the hundreds had become thousands, and by a week later almost every secular Jew in Israel was making plans to leave the country as quickly as possible.

In less than two months, Israel turned into a religious state, where virtually every resident was either  Orthodox Jewish, Islamic, or Christian. Obviously, Ben-Gurion airport was total chaos.  Haifa too experienced a huge inflow of people leaving by ship to get on planes in Nicosia or Rome.  

So many drove to Amman and Istanbul (mostly those who also carried foreign passports, of course) that used-car prices dropped by over 50% in those cities as departing Israeli’s attempted to sell their vehicles there.  Charter companies quickly stepped in, assisting the massive flow of people and baggage.

Given the greatly increased number of flights and the fact that many of them were chartered from third-world countries combined with the stress at the airport facilities, and of course the fact that many aviation engineers had already departed the country, there was widespread fear that a disaster could occur.

American Jewry reacted with mild distaste, seeing Israel crumbling yet unready to either condemn the emigrants or to leave their comforts to replace them. The pontificators among the American Charedi  organization, as usual, hedged their bets by pointing out how the left-wing controlling forces in the Knesset had brought this upon themselves, yet washing their hands of their role. Likewise, they failed to offer a hand to the many Israelis now attempting to resettle in the United States.

The charedim rejoiced as real-estate prices plummeted in Tel Aviv.  They were even happier when the Trief restaurants, nightclubs, and theatres closed for good. 

It didn’t take long for their feelings to start changing, though.

The first problems started within two days, when the electricity stopped being reliable.   This wasn’t as big an issue as you’d think, because there were many homes with generators as much of the Charedi sector prefers not to use commercial electricity on Shabbat anyway.

The families with medically-necessary electricity were the most affected, but luckily there weren’t so many of them.  Not many Charedim lived on high floors either, so losing elevators wasn’t much of an issue. (It eventually turned out that the nuclear-reactor staff had shut down the reactors after learning that almost all of them were leaving the country.)

Busses, always erratic in their schedules in Israel, became far more erratic, and were now almost always full. Drivers stopped accepting passes or transfers, and insisted on cash payments.  Taxis no longer even pretended to use meters at all, and demanded exorbitant prices.

Day by day, hour by hour, services and products seemed to disappear from daily life.  The department stores were already mostly closed; the large supermarkets had little to sell.  Newspapers and magazines quickly became extinct, and the radio stations all slowly disappeared.  Gas stations started to close too, leaving signs explaining that they had no more gas.  It seemed that only the banks, the accountants, and the law offices were still fully functional.

Tel Aviv looked like a ghost town. Some took advantage, posting signs making the famous beaches gender-segregated, but few were able to take advantage of them given the transportation problems.  Also, once one got there, there were no services available: you couldn’t buy a cold drink, find a hotel room, buy suntan lotion.  The museums too were all closed, as were the art galleries, indeed virtually everything worth seeing or doing in the city.

As the flow of people to Lod and Haifa continued, services continued to fail across the country. Trains stopped running within a week, large factories were mostly closed within two. By week three, there were no longer any sanitation pick-ups, and the police seemed to have disappeared, although there were surprisingly few crimes.  The exception was breaking and entering, which was epidemic at supermarkets across the country, where people were stealing foodstuffs at an alarming rate, as if they feared their availability would stop.

Slowly, over the following days, services vanished.  Vehicle traffic diminished despite the huge drop in auto prices as gas ceased being available, and as busses had already almost stopped, pedestrian traffic greatly increased, often with people using old baby strollers to carry their purchases.  People appeared on the major streets offering jewelry, art, and antiques in barter for food.  People begging for food started to appear, and Jerusalem quickly took on the appearance it had in the 1950’s with rows of pitiful beggars with hands outstretched along Rehov Strauss and in Kikar Zion.

Telephone service was lost soon after, and since the media were already not functioning, panic was in the air.  Those few who had generators, gas to power them, and internet were rarities, but they were the only sources of actual knowledge. They acknowledged their position and were generous with their time, not only relaying news and assisting family emergencies, they also became sources of medical knowledge as the internet became almost the only way to get health assistance since hospitals were mostly closed and the few still open were overcrowded and understaffed to war-like proportions.

The news they relayed was of a rapidly deteriorating ability of Israel to defend itself.  The surrounding countries were overjoyed in their imminent takeover, to the point that they had become so mired in internal arguments that they were diverted from actually attacking. Hamas claimed that Israel would be their new state, while Jordan insisted that it would become their eastern part, reserved for Palestinians who would be deported from Jordan proper, but who would still pay taxes to them and report to Amman.  

Syria demanded the Golan as it had once belonged to them, and insisted they’d never give it up to anyone.  Iran demanded a representational part, insisting that they had precipitated the situation.  Egypt demanded control of Gaza and the parallel Eastern side of the Negev.

It was quite clear that it would take a little while for them to agree on how to partition the state, but equally clear that attack would come soon.  Rockets coming in from Gaza were no longer being deflected by Israel, making it obvious that Israel’s borders were not being defended as they had been, if at all.

It was at this point that I mercifully awoke.