“The test of a civilization is how it cares for its helpless members,” said novelist and Pulitzer Prize winner Pearl Buck (in a quote often misattributed to Mahatma Gandhi, but which nevertheless rings true) .
“Idit Silman left the coalition,” my friend told me over coffee this morning. “It tips the balance – the government will probably be dismantled. Of course, this chametz in hospitals, it is only an excuse. Everyone knows it’s a matter of personal politics.
I nod and sip my coffee.
Of course, he is right. Nobody breaks a government for sandwiches.
But on a deeper level, I think he’s wrong. I think the chametz (leavened food) in hospitals is emblematic of Israel’s political division – perhaps its most perfect analogy.
I mean, the traditional ‘left-right’ divide here has long been obsolete by now. There is no real left – the camp divided between the declining Ashkenazi upper middle class and Muslim religious parties, nor really interested in the redistribution of capital or workers’ rights, while what we call the “right is made up of a variety of party political parties with diverse economic, national and social doctrines, some libertarian, others declarative socialist (at least in terms of the demographics they are affiliated with), most neoliberal to some degree extent, all united mainly, if not solely, by their reactionary party Jewish Identity.
But ask a person if they believe chametz – and outside foods in general – should be allowed in hospitals during Passover can give you a pretty comprehensive idea of that person’s political affiliation.
‘This is a Jewish country,’ some friends comment on Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz’s decision to promote the Supreme Court’s ruling allowing people to bring non-kosher food into hospitals during Passover, undermining the ability of those observing to maintain an OCD. – environmental compliant free of sourdough foods. They say this as if the country’s national identity makes it obvious that maintaining Jewish tradition is more important than the right of non-practicing people to prefer take-out or a packed lunch to hospital food.
Of course, people under medical treatment may need non-hospital food for reasons beyond their personal sense of gastronomic aesthetics. Some sick people may have special dietary requirements that the hospital cannot fully accommodate. Others may show up for 10-hour treatment sessions for consecutive days or even weeks, accompanied by friends or relatives whose budgets don’t allow them to buy lunch in hospital cafeterias. Others may undergo treatments that affect their appetite and may find familiar home-cooked meals or menu items from a favorite restaurant more appetizing during those rare windows of opportunity when food seems appealing.
It’s not a guess. I have heard from some doctors that during Passover, the symptoms of hospitalized people suffering from gastric diseases increase considerably because they cannot supplement their hospital diet with outside foods that meet their personal needs.
When I hear people oppose what others bring chametz in hospitals because of the Jewish character of the nation, what I hear are people saying that the institutions and traditions of Judaism are more important to them than the welfare of real people and the sensitive complexities of their life. And when I look at the other views and policies of this faction of Israeli society that puts Judaism above the people, I see that they also support the occupation and oppose civil unions and public transport the weekend – all for the same reason. To them, people aren’t people – they’re demographics, numbers on a “with us or against us” chart, which is why they feel comfortable calling more than 20% of citizens of the country a “demographic threat”, or making the lives of the sick and injured more difficult, or making it incredibly expensive for people without cars to visit family or go to the beach on weekends – or drag an entire country into another round of elections for sandwiches.
So no, there are no “right” or “left” camps in Israel. There are the “people first” and “Judaism first” camps, and for the latter, breaking up a government for sandwiches makes sense.
Born in Israel, raised globally, Adam is an artist and writer currently based in Tel Aviv.