Middle-class heroes with a shameful secret
How can one take part in the demonstrations with a stroller that cost just NIS 1,200?
"All right," I declared on Saturday afternoon, having decided that it was time to shake off the apathy. "I'm going out to demonstrate tonight."
"Are you sure?" my wife asked, undermining my confidence as usual.
"Yes," I told her. "There's no reason my neighbors should go out to protest while I'm sitting at home. It's for the sake of all of our futures."
"There's no reason?" she asked in that tone of hers - that social-worker tone.
Why am I even listening to a social worker? May God grant her and her colleagues good health and a pension. After all, the social workers were the only ones who went out on strike, organized demonstrations and only ended their struggle when the government promised them worse conditions.
"No," I answered her, as doubt began to creep into my voice. "Nothing should stop me from taking part in the demonstrations."
"Fine," she replied, knowing full well that she'd won. "So go have a nice time there."
Why the hell am I so confused about the great social protest that is sweeping the nation? I mean, it's totally obvious that I'm in favor of a welfare state, I've always held socialist-verging-on-communist views, and it's pretty likely that we, too, are part of that same middle class that's collapsing under the burden of school fees, taxes, high cable TV and phone bills, municipal taxes and housing shortages.
Oy, and there's the mortgage, that dreaded thing called a mortgage, a concept that has taken on a palpable form and even pursues us in our dreams. That mortgage, with its giant arm and threatening finger warning you that if you miss just one more payment it's going to flog you until you bleed. Yes, you are its slave; you cannot really ever see the end of it, and it just keeps growing bigger and more powerful.
Just as long as they don't lower housing prices too, now, because of the demonstrations. Now, after we finally took the plunge, they're going to lower the prices? Because if there's any consolation at all for the holders of these huge mortgages, it's that at least apartment prices are always going up. Every weekend I open the financial papers and smile at each report about "real estate prices on the rise." "You see," I always remark to my wife, acting like I really understand something about economics. "It's lucky we bought. The value of our apartment must have gone up by 10 percent already," I add - ignoring the fact that the bank is the actual owner of our home.
But still, something about the protest bothers me; I can't quite explain what it is. It's not that I'm against it, heaven forbid, or that I don't support it. On the contrary, I'm following it and hope with all my heart that it will succeed in changing the economic policy here and bring about a genuine change in priorities. So why the hell do I have this feeling that there's something not natural in my being there?
Maybe it's because of the slogan: "The people want social justice." What exactly is the definition of "the people"? Will I feel comfortable shouting those words out along with the other protesters? I know it was borrowed from Tahrir Square, where they shouted, "The people want to topple the regime." But in Egypt the word referred to the Egyptian people. Meaning everyone who lives in Egypt. And here? Does the term "the people" really include all of Israel's citizens?
No, no, no - I scold myself. Don't think that way. This struggle isn't like that, it's different. I can't allow myself to miss this emerging revolution. After all, it's a very welcome thing. So I shouldn't get all hung up about the definition of terms like "the people" and so on. Those arguments are not relevant and maybe a protest like this might even redefine the concept of "the people." Maybe it will give new meaning to civil society. I have to take part, the Arabs have to take part: This is an opportunity to fight for equal citizenship. But what if they sing "Hatikva" at the end, as has happened at some of the marches I've attended? And what if a speaker gets up and declares: "We are a united people - Jews, leftists, rightists, religious and secular people - all fighting for our home"?
In the end, one of the activists talked about how he voted Likud and wasn't sorry, and said he and others like him served the country, do reserve duty, are ready to sacrifice themselves for Israel and expect the country to show some gratitude.
"Okay," I informed my wife in defeat on Saturday night. "This time I won't go, but you should just know that it's a class issue here, this is a middle-class struggle, of people just like us. They're not politicians and they're not experienced and you'll see: It will take them a little time but they'll learn to make it all sound a little less nationalistic."
How happy I was to open the Sunday morning paper and read about the tremendous success of the protest. I felt a pang of guilt for not having taken part in it, in something that is going to reshape Israeli society. I looked at my children and I smiled, knowing that they would have a better future. They can be proud that they were born into the middle class. Everything is going to seem much more comfortable, much more tolerable now.
On television now they're talking, and rightly so, about the high costs of baby products. A stroller in Israel costs NIS 6,000, when you could buy the same thing abroad for half the price. One of the middle-class mothers mentions the stroller she bought for NIS 4,000 ...
Wait, wait, wait, I said to myself - NIS 6,000? NIS 4,000? That's what a stroller costs? Just last week I went into a store in the Talpiot industrial zone and an Arab salesman recommended a model that costs NIS 1,200. I looked in my wallet and found the receipt. Yes: NIS 1,199 for the stroller, and the bastard even had the nerve to tell me that it's an excellent one that also comes with a little bathtub and a basket, and easily converts into a carrier.
It was so humiliating. What did this salesman think? Couldn't he see that I'm from the middle class? Why did he push a stroller on me that costs less than NIS 4,000? What will this to do to my kid?! He could end up feeling that he belongs to something stupid like the working class.
"Where's the stroller?" I shouted, coming into the bedroom, grabbing it and rushing out with it.
"Where are you going?" my wife yelled.
"To return this lousy stroller," I said as I left the house in a huff. "A middle-class person can't be seen with a stroller that costs so little!"
On my way to the car, I ran into our neighbor who was pushing a stroller that must have cost at least NIS 5,000.
"Good for you," she said.
"Thank you," I told her. "One can't remain silent about such things."
Meanwhile, some more mothers and fathers from the neighborhood had gathered around, all pushing strollers with babies. I felt so embarrassed about my cheap stroller that I tried to block their view of its no-name label.
"I'm so glad to see you're taking part in the stroller protest, too," said my kind neighbor.
"Uhh ... yes," I replied. "It's simply intolerable, a disgrace."
"You don't know how important it is," she added, "to show that this protest transcends all sectors of the population."