That pall is back. That leaden horizon and the insane heat, the brutal mass killings of innocent people just because they happened to be on that bus and not the one before, the rickety government in Jerusalem, the lethal maneuvering of dictators nearby - all of it pointing to war.
A breath. While there's a moment, before it all comes horribly apart, we interrupt this war for, well, a memory.
When I was small, our synagogue used a book called "Israel Today," to introduce grade school children to a wholly foreign country, a hugely different, impossibly distant nation which was also, in some sense that could neither be understood nor at all believed in, ours.
It occurs to me now, having spent most of my life in that country, that "Israel Today" could use an update, perhaps, and also, while we're at it, a change of title.
Herewith a first contribution, the beginning of a glossary of terms. A start on a child's first word book of Israel, today.
ISRAEL - Israel is a small country on the eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea, the same sea where we find Greece, Egypt, and many other places with long, long histories, and no government.
BIBI - Bibi is the guy you see on Sunday riding in the big black car with the blue light, and the big silver cars in front with the blue lights too. He loves riding in his car. On Sundays, he gets to have snacks with 29 of his closest friends. But first he has his picture taken.
A GREAT PERSONAL TRAGEDY - A very sad event which has nothing to do with Bibi and is not at all his fault.
Last week, one of these things happened to a man named Moshe Silman. He was in terrible trouble, and he couldn't get help from the people who were supposed to help him. Then, when Moshe burned himself very badly, it was too late to help him.
Another great personal tragedy was the death of Yitzhak Rabin when a man shot him. This also had nothing to do with Bibi and the things he told people against Yitzhak.
SAFETY NET - Long ago, this was a group of people and offices whose job it was to save people in trouble, like Moshe, before it was too late. They helped people who needed a home be able to get one. They helped make sure that kids had good schools, even if their families didn't have much money. They made sure that old people had food and a place to live, and doctors and nurses and helpers to take care of them when they needed it.
But Bibi and his friends said the safety net cost too much, and, starting a long time ago, they took it apart. And a lot of the money that used to go to paying people for the hard work they did, or to pay for the safety net, went to a few of Bibi's friends instead.
THE ONLY DEMOCRACY IN THE MIDDLE EAST - This is when you have a country, and it's an Only Democracy, as in "It's a democracy, only Palestinians can't vote" or, "It's a democracy, only settlers and Haredim have special privileges and exemptions from the laws everyone else has to follow," or, "It's a democracy, only Bibi and his friends
(who has all the guns) and
(who has all the money) can do whatever they want, and nobody can do anything about it.
Or, "It's a democracy, only if many, many people decide that having an Israeli university in an occupied territory is a huge mistake, and that it will cause people to boycott Israel, and that it will hurt other Israeli universities - but Bibi's friends Yuvi and
need to make new friends in the club called the Likud Central Committee – it will happen anyway.
BOYCOTT – This is what Israel does to the United Nations when the United Nations does something it doesn't like. Then, when people try to do this to Israel, Israel calls them anti-Semitic.
THE PEOPLE'S ARMY, THE IDF – Everybody has to serve in it, and do reserve duty in it until they're old. Only, if you're religious in the right way and your rabbis are friends of Bibi's, you won't have to. Only, if you have enough money to pay a psychologist to say you're not well, you won't have to. And if you're most non-Jews, you won't have to. And sometimes, when you're one of the older soldiers, when you come back from reserve duty, you get fired because you were away. And then there's no safety net.
MK MICHAEL BEN-ARI – When he
rips up a Christian Bible and throws it into the trash can in his office in the Knesset - which is like the Congress, except people swear at each other and call each other terrible names – that's all right, because Christians used to be mean to the jews and do the same kinds of things.
THE OCCUPATION – As of last week, you don't have to know about this anymore.
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