By Leah Garber
It’s the end of a difficult day—one in a series—here in Israel. It comes at the end of yet one more week, 10 in all so far, marked by nationwide protests calling for the government’s planned judicial reform train to stop its mad gallop. It’s a dangerous ride, and the train is losing control. Two-thirds of the country’s citizens are calling for this reform to stop. Citizens are out in the streets—Israelis from all sectors: right and left, secular and observant, Jews and Arabs—protesting, day in and day out, for protection of our precious democracy. Tonight, more than ever, that democracy seems especially fragile.
As if our domestic hardships aren’t enough, tonight we got a painful reminder that terrorism does not stop—not even for a moment. Even as huge protests were happening all over the country, others were trying to retain some sense of normalcy, joyously celebrating the end of this Purim week. As they did, a gunman shot up a café on Dizengoff Street in the heart of Tel Aviv, injuring several occupants.
I’m mostly sad. Sad at the changing image of my beloved country. Sad in the face of irresponsible statements from government officials. Sad that a long dormant polarizing discourse is taking over city centers—instead of preparations for the 75th celebration of Israel’s independence.
Earlier tonight, President Isaac Herzog addressed the nation with an unprecedented warning of pending disaster. He urged political leaders to stop the rush. In a most serious tone, he stressed that the laws being advanced are wrong, destructive, an affront to Israel’s democratic values, and must be stopped. “Our democracy is a value,” he said.
He was outspoken—the most he has been thus far—in his opposition to the government’s legislative push to overhaul the judiciary.
He spoke to a country in chaos, a country in pain, and a country whose citizens are fighting for its identity. Tonight is a sad night in Israel.
Earlier this week we read in the Book of Esther: “And the month that was reversed for them from grief to joy and from mourning to a festive day—they were made days of feasting and joy.”
My wish is that we will learn and grow from this crisis, overcome it, and unite around the good—the wonderful good—we have here, the good we created together, and that we will be worthy for days to be reversed from grief to joy and from mourning to festive.
Leah Garber is a senior vice president of JCC Association of North America and director of its Center for Israel Engagement in Jerusalem.