I am 70 years old today. I was born on the eve of Simhat Torah in 1940. When you start early, as I did, old age always amazes you; it doesn't suit you at all, it comes before your time.
Since I was born under the sign of joy (the "simha" of the Simhat Torah holiday ), I was supposed to be a happy person, but I am not. My moments of satisfaction are short and my moments of impatience are long. My fleeting happiness generally is filled with some sadness. We don't have to be happy, and those who seek joy in Pune, or Uman, or Netivot seem to me to be miserable and nuts. They will seek it and it will escape them, because instant joy is a mirage in the desert of the soul.
By 50, one is supposed to be able to give advice, but I do not have much advice left to give, nor do I have those to whom I can give it. The 60-year-old is considered old; I was young for too long and grew old prematurely. And the 70-year-old is supposed to be gray with age. At that point, people are asked about their memories and experiences and start to sum up, even against their will, that which left an indelible impression.
1999 looked as if it would be a year of satisfaction and pleasure. I was the head of a movement that had won 10 seats in the Knesset. Without us it would have been impossible to form a coalition and chart the government's path. For Meretz to get 10 seats, some 200,000 people had to go to the polls and express their faith in us. But I shall speak about one vote that was enough to mar the joy of victory.
On the eve of that election, I received a letter. I did not have the free time then to read all the letters I got, but I did read this one. A father wrote that he was opposed to everything I represent and that the positions held by me and my movement were a thorn in his flesh. Nevertheless, he wrote, he would vote for us; he had no choice.
Those were the days of the first Lebanon war, which was supposed to last for 48 hours but went on for 18 years. More than 1,000 soldiers were killed. He, the writer, had a son who was 19 and a soldier. One night he left his outpost to lie in ambush, and he never returned. Ariel Sharon arrived by plane and brought his coffin with him. The letter-writer's son had been a supporter of ours, as his father had learned from the soldier's frequent letters and infrequent visits. And now, the father wrote, his son was no longer with us and his vote could not go to you. I will take the place of my son, he wrote.
I was beside myself. Alone in the room, I banged on the table, furious and helpless. Damn this war! I looked for the family's address and telephone number. I called them and asked if I could come. They live in a small apartment with many shadows in south Tel Aviv. I have come, I said, to free you of the vow that you took. You must vote according to your own belief. Your vote is not a vote for me, and I don't wish to benefit from it because of a wanton war. My protests did not help. The father, who was inconsolable, was impossible to convince.
I shook his hand and we parted. We did not meet again. But I think of his son quite regularly. When I sat in the government, thanks to his vote and the benevolence of his father, I always saw his image in front of my eyes - what he would have said about all the distress that we cause here, about those who pat themselves on the back, and those who are rowdy, those who lead and those who command.
To this day - even now, as a hoary old man - I ask the same question. Does one have to get to my age to ask, and especially to answer? And those who celebrate their old age and their power should remember: Longevity in this country is not a right that everyone is blessed with. Too many young people did not have that right, and they remain a sorrowful and ageless memorial.
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