Israel Always Surprises
Guest Column

Israel Always Surprises

Why shouldn’t Israel be packed for its 70th birthday? Who realized the country would grow like this?

Rabbi David Geffen

Rabbi David Geffen is a native Atlantan and Conservative rabbi who lives in Jerusalem.

Strike up the band! Strike up the band!

We here in Israel and all of you abroad never know what will happen in the land of our fathers and mothers. Some of it is good; some not so good.

Because we are in our 70th year and the United Nations just voted overwhelmingly that Jerusalem is not the capital, anything is possible. So strike up the band!

The other night I saw a phenomenon of major proportions. I had no idea that Israel has worked for several years to construct a landing capsule that will make it to the moon and give Israel a chance to see what that heavenly body is all about.

There on television was the space launcher almost completed, a Jewish moon lander. The three developers were standing around, explaining what is being done. One was in a wheelchair. Two years ago his spine cracked when he fell on a ski slope.

You can imagine that to wake up and learn you will never walk again is devastating. Initially, he was in a deep depression. But his wife and his partners pulled him up and made him appreciate his family and his fabulous project, even in a wheelchair.

As you can imagine, a phenomenon requires millions of shekels to develop. Various people who believe that there will be a Jewish landing on the moon have donated considerable money, but not enough. If extra millions cannot be found, the project will have to stop just short of completion. What will happen? Strike up the band!

When a close friend who has been one of the great supporters of Israel for over a half-century recently arrived from Atlanta, his first question on the telephone as we spoke was “What is going on with Netanyahu?”

I have no idea.

For months the TV, radio and newspapers have bombarded us with charges against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Supposedly, his friends give him expensive gifts, cigars in particular, and he is accused of colluding with Noni Mozes, the owner of Yedioth Ahronoth, the largest newspaper in Israel.

Netanyahu, according to the leaked charges, asked Mozes to lay off him, and in return the prime minister would see that the free daily newspaper Israel Hayom would cut back the number of copies it prints. Netanyahu’s friend Sheldon Adelson owns Israel Hayom.

In the bribery case related to a submarine contract, people close to Netanyahu are alleged to have received a cut. The police have been trying to get sufficient evidence to charge the prime minister, who is a suspect in other deals.

Meanwhile, the Knesset was poised to pass a law forbidding the publication of any information from a police investigation. But after Knesset members of the coalition announced they were voting against the bill and 30,000 people protested the bill Saturday night, Dec. 2, in Tel Aviv and coalition Chairman David Bitan was called in to be interrogated by the police about fraud and other charges, Netanyahu announced early Sunday afternoon, Dec. 3, that the bill will be rewritten so that it will not refer to the investigations he has undergone.

There is a debate as to why Netanyahu buckled under, but some sanity has returned to Israel for those of us who care about the threats against democracy that have been growing in leaps and bounds.

The victim in the cannon fire against the PM is Sara Netanyahu. Over the past year she has been in and out of the Labor Court of Israel. She has been charged with hoarding foodstuffs and having an expensive caterer prepare a dinner in the official residence for distinguished guests. She said she wanted the evening to be fancier. A maid has claimed that Sara harassed her so that the woman was afraid she would be hit, so she resigned.

All the “Sara stuff,” everyone knows, is to make her suffer because her husband cannot yet be touched.

Although there has been a paucity of rain, the flowers throughout Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and all the other big cities are blooming in bright colors. Israel knows how to use irrigation to keep everything alive — fruits, vegetables, grains, flowers — despite the shortage of water.

For those who read newspaper stories about protests by the Haredim, including The New York Times and The Washington Post, I want to describe a different feature of this group.

The demonstrators are black-coat robots. They are told what to do — riot, turn over garbage bins, hit soldiers and make the police crazy.

But near where I live, Nahlaot, there are many synagogues, yeshivot, a Chabad house and a few mikvaot, and the Haredim are very concerned about Israel. Some men wear the black Hasidic garb; others do not but have a Haredi mindset.

I do not know about their going in the army, as some do, but I am impressed by the attitude they express. The men work, as do some of the women, and the men study. They have guidelines for their children; they encourage them to join groups for enjoyment and for seeing the country.

Some who are professionals are not sure whether they want their children to go college. The Haredim who have made aliyah from the United States are more open to permitting their children to go to college.

The other day the operator of the light railway train saw a woman running for the train, and from afar he encouraged her to keep coming. He opened the doors so she could get in. She was thankful, as were the rest of us, even though we were packed in. We knew that the man running the train was a good, kind person.

Israel has no free hotel rooms after Jan. 1. Every room has been reserved. One suggestion is to dock a big ship near a major city to house tourists.

Why shouldn’t Israel be packed for its 70th birthday? Who realized the country would grow like this? Israel will always surprise us.

Just strike up the band!