What matters to me most in life and politics is what’s closest to my heart. It’s related directly to my own personal experience.
Isn’t that true for everyone?
And, perhaps, why I haven’t connected to the elections in Israel is because what matters most to me doesn’t matter to most of the people voting in this election. Or most of the people that live in Israel.
But what I still don’t get is why?
In between fighting wars, and between reading the newspaper in the morning and watching the news at night, don’t we all need/want to live healthy lives?
Don’t my neighbors, friends, relatives understand that nothing else matters once your health is poor?
Taxes won’t matter.
Housing prices won’t matter.
Military duty won’t matter.
Statehood won’t matter.
Once a health crisis takes over, little else matters.
And each and every one of us are in some stage of a health crisis right now.
Many of us are only days, weeks, years away from cancer due to chemicals in our food and self care products.
Many of our children are only days, weeks, years away from debilitating asthma due to air pollution.
Many of our grandchildren are…
Many of our grandchildren are…
Many of our grandchildren are…
due to rising infertility rates … climate change … drought…. famine…diminishing resources on our planet.
Apparently, Dov Lipman does. In fact, he’s really the only one who answered the call. It could have something to do with the fact that my “call” was in English, Dov’s mother tongue (he’s also an immigrant from the U.S.). It also could do with the fact that he too is a Times of Israel blogger, and perhaps the only political candidate who actually read my post.
Understanding this, I sent the link personally to English-proficient Bibi and American-born, greenie like me Alon Tal via social media outlets to try to get their attention. Neither responded. Not even their twitter-bots.
I did get a Facebook shout out from the English campaign manager of HaBayit HaYehudi asking me to call him, and an offer from one of their volunteers to come to my kibbutz and speak about the elections.
But Dov was the only one who hunted me down on Facebook (not hard to do) and engaged me in a one-on-one Q & A about his agenda — and mine — and that of Yesh Atid, the party ticket he’s running on.
I liked what Dov had to say (type) to me — but, moreso, how he said it.
He was nice.
He asked me for my questions.
And answered them. To the best of his ability.
And was honest when he didn’t have the answer.
He asked me what mattered to me.
He made me feel as if I matter.
A politician in the making, but not politician enough to sound inauthentic.
Which is a good thing in my book.
And while important issues to me are sorely missing from Yesh Atid’s platform –environment and health, in particular– I don’t think any one party in Israel is addressing the issues that matter to me. (Which is stupid, since religion and government will mean nothing to nobody if this land is either flooded over or otherwise uninhabitable due to the effects of climate change; or if we’re all dying of various of forms of cancer thanks to air, water, and land pollution.)
So I have a few choices in this election:
1. Choose not to vote
2. Choose the party and politician most of my close friends are choosing (In my case, HaTnuah, Labor or Meretz– which is probably why HaBayit HaYehudi didn’t waste even a 5-minute call on me)
3. Choose the guy/party who makes me feel like I matter
Choosing 1 is completely reasonable for a new immigrant. I mean, to be honest, I’m surprised they let me vote at all. I can barely make it through the grocery store on my own.
Choosing 2 would put me among the majority of the people in this country. Most people, especially immigrants, vote half-heartedly or with little research. Most of my friends told me they are still undecided or are choosing a party based on who they don’t want to win or based on who their father/husband/sister wants to win.
Is it so wrong, stupid, or immature then to choose option 3? To choose to vote for the one person on the ballot who made me feel like my vote matters?
Obviously, there is something in Yesh Atid’s platform that speaks to me — education improvements, for one. Focus on helping small businesses succeed and giving opportunities to the middle class to afford homes.
Obviously, Dov Lipman could be telling me exactly what I want to hear to get my vote. That’s what a few of my friends said when I told them I was considering giving Yesh Atid my vote after my correspondence with Dov, followed by a careful reading of their English web site and Facebook pages, and speaking to one of their hard-core supporters..
But isn’t that’s what all politicians do any way — on a grander scale? Tell us what we want to hear to motivate us to vote for them?
Really, when it comes down to it — after all the newspaper articles, the televised debates, the advertising: none of which I was audience to, in all honesty, because they were either in Hebrew or took place far away — how educated can we really truly be before an election?
How rational can we really truly be? Most of our decisions, any decisions, are biased anyway.
So is it so stupid, so wrong, such a waste for me to vote for the guy, the party who made me feel like I matter?
I won’t gripe out loud that it’s not fair that you get to spend your day making snow angels and sipping choco, while I have to spend mine behind the computer working or behind the Israeli version of a mop doing sponga.
Nope, I won’t moan or groan or say how unfair it is. (As if Jerusalem doesn’t already have big malls, natural food stores, a good public transportation, and the blessing of God. Now you get SNOW?)
Nope. I’m happy for you guys.
Really, I am.
I’ll prove it. Post links to your pics below. I want to revel in your snow joy!
Two years ago, it snowed like the apocalypse in Newark, New Jersey.
Nevertheless, the airports were open the next day and early in the morning December 28, we packed our three kids and 15 duffel bags into a shuttle bus. As the sun rose, we headed up the NJ Turnpike from my mother’s house in Cherry Hill to Newark International Airport to meet a plane full of Jews preparing for a Nefesh B’Nefesh flight to Israel.
Not the Israel that threatened to burn your skin lobster red or put you in a hospital in Beer Sheva for dehydration.
We landed in winter Israel; which, apparently, gets really wet and cold. For months.
I’m embarrassed to admit this, but do you know that I did not pack in one of those 15 duffel bags a pair of sweat pants? Not for me; not for my children.
I’m pretty sure I packed two pairs of pants for each kid and about 10 pairs of shorts.
I kid you not.
In Northern Israel.
To be fair, I had only been to Israel once in winter. And, while it’s true, I DID spend two weeks volunteering on a God Forsaken army base outside of Tzfat, during which I vaguely recall sleeping beneath a wool blanket in my large, down-lined khaki army jacket; I think my memories of being dehydrated by the Dead Sea prevailed.
I thought it was perpetual summer in Israel. I thought the worst it got was windbreaker and jeans weather.
Luckily, a month after we arrived in Israel with our duffel bags, our shipping container arrived in Haifa. And, two weeks after that, following a port workers strike, our winter jackets and hats arrived. And my two pairs of Wellington boots.
The boots have been my best friends through two and half winters.
Now I know better: Winter in Israel, on a good year, is wet. And cold.
And on kibbutz — very, very muddy.
But, as naive as I may have once been about winter in Israel — I feel very out of place in, and a tad bit disturbed, by the winter wonderland brought on by this storm.
Ice raining down on my porch?
Driving winds slamming against the side of my house?
And if it were one random stand alone instance of freak weather, I’d probably chuckle and enjoy the cheers of my 4-year-old who doesn’t remember the snow of the blizzard we left New Jersey in. She thinks this freezing rain is snow.
But, I don’t have to tell you it’s not a stand alone instance of freak weather.
Where ever you’re reading this from — Australia (where wild fires rage), the midwestern and southern U.S. (where the impacts of drought are still being felt), Seaside Heights (still soggy from Sandy), flooded Great Britain — you know what I’m talking about.
Freak weather is becoming less freakish; and more freakishly common.
Winter in Israel was never this wintery. At least, not in a long time.
And after we make it through this storm, I wonder if anyone is going to be talking about it.
Bragging moment: I was accepted into the University Honors Program in college. I even got a scholarship.
That letter in the mail was likely the pinnacle of my academic career. That, or the poetry award I won from Mr. Schaeffer at the end of 9th Grade.
I was your classic underachiever in school. And in retrospect, I completely wasted the distinction The George Washington University placed on me.
In order to maintain the scholarship and my place in the program, I was required to take at least one class each semester offered by the honors track. As always, I did the bare minimum. I followed the rules and aimed for a grade acceptable to me and my parents. (A “B” or above.)
The only classes I remember are two semesters of “An Introduction to Soviet Cinema”– from which I walked away better educated about cinematographic license and with the easiest “A” I ever earned — and my senior seminar with Professor Harry Harding, an expert on Asian-American relations.
I don’t remember why I took this class with Harding, since my interest area was the Middle East. I probably heard from someone that he was kind or didn’t give a lot of homework. I do remember, however, the brilliant research thesis topic I dreamed up for the paper I had to write at the end of the year:
“The Influence of Zen Buddhism on American Pop Culture”
I wish I could get my hands on that paper. And, then completely rewrite it. Because whatever I wrote was complete crap and/or borderline plagiarism, I’m sure.
This time, if given the opportunity, I’d actually do the research. I’d read more than the three required books. I’d actually do primary research. Find people to interview. Listen to their stories. Imagine what their lives were like. Swim in their memories. Meditate on them. And then produce a paper that truly encapsulated my brilliant findings and analysis.
But, like most 20-year-olds, I hated writing research papers. And this was a 25 page research paper, which was the longest by far I was ever required to write before or since.
I loved learning, but I was too bound by the rules and the concern for a good grade and the concern for a good job and a good career and a good paycheck and a good pitcher of beer to actually do what I imagine most teachers want you to do — learn about something and carry that education forward into your life.
I remembered this research paper yesterday when I watched a video a friend shared on Facebook.
It’s a series of images that illustrate a lecture given once by Alan Watts entitled “What If Money Were No Object?”
The name sounded familiar. I Googled him. Oh, yeah. He was the guy in my research paper from senior seminar; recognized as one of the key individuals responsible for bringing Zen Buddhism to the West.
I chuckled. Here was the voice of Alan Watts speaking to me — primary research, 20 years too late.
If only the internet had been more than a chat room on AOL when I was in college.
If only I had heard Watts say:
“What do you desire?
What makes you itch?
What would you like to do if money were no object?
How would you really enjoy spending your life?”
I might have spent more time on my research paper. I might have spent more time wondering if this Alan Watts guy was more than just page filler.
What would I have thought if I had been in that crowd? Would Watts have inspired me?
What message would I have taken away from that lecture?
Would I be the philosopher, the novelist, the soap opera star I sometimes wish I was?
“Crowds of students say, ‘We’d like to be painters. We’d like to be poets. We’d like to be writers.’
But as everybody knows you can’t earn any money that way…
When we finally get down to something which the individual says they really want to do, I will say to them, “You do that. And forget the money.”
Amen, I thought to myself, when I heard Watts challenge the audience to “forget the money.”
And then, “I wish someone had said that to me when I was 20.”
Easy for me to say now.
Easy now, at 38 years old, with a steady paycheck and two decades of experience making it on my own.
But would I have been able to really hear Watts then?
Would his words have led me to walk a different path?
I don’t know.
My life might have turned out exactly the same.
I was a lot more stubborn then. A lot less likely to listen to someone wiser than me. I might have done exactly what I did. Graduate. Get a job in a non-profit. Be happy that I was finally earning my own paycheck and had my own money to spend on jeans at The Gap in Georgetown. Or on big scrunchies.
I really wanted my own money back then. I wanted freedom from my parents. I wanted room to make my own choices. I didn’t see any possible way to achieve both freedom and my desire.
Which makes me think Watts’ advice would have registered only as a temporary instigation.
Because in our current society set up, it’s practically impossible to forget the money.
We have to follow our desires in spite of the money.
What you need to know if you choose to forget the money is how you will stay true to your desire when the rest of the world says you need money over everything else. You need to know how you will navigate the expectations of your family, your friends, your neighbors. You need to know how to avoid the pitfalls of consumerism. How to live without a TV; without an SUV; without a weekend getaway.
You need to build your life so that your life is your weekend getaway.
= = = = =
If anyone had asked me when I was 20, I wouldn’t have said then, “I’d like to be a philosopher.”
I wouldn’t have said, “I’d like to be a craniosachral therapist.”
I absolutely would not have said, “I want, more than anything, to be a full-time, paid-loads-for-a-living celebrated writer.”
I didn’t know it then.
And I couldn’t see the way.
And yet, I’ve been fortunate to find my way. To have either landed in or created circumstances in which I’ve been able to recreate my career based on my passions and desires.
I listened to and followed my itch; years before hearing Alan Watts’ speech.
But, along the way, I’ve had to give up desires, too. Ignore certain itches.
I’ve had to choose.
Sometimes I’ve been able to forget the money.
And sometimes not.
Watts does not talk about choices…and consequences.
It’s not easy to follow your desire instead of following the money.
= = = = =
What would I say to a crowd of young people today?
How would I guide them?
I might say something similar to what Watts says: “Better to have a short life that is full of what you like doing, than a long life spent in a miserable way.”
I believe this to be true. And I like to think that somehow, accidentally, when I was writing that research paper in college, Watts’ advice penetrated my tired mind as I was lazily investigating the influence of Zen Buddhism on American pop culture.
Perhaps, subtly his words have been guiding me ever since.
But I would also suggest being as flexible as you are determined.
For who knows what you will be when you grow up?
I didn’t. I still don’t.
I still ask myself every day, “What do you desire?”
And then listen for the answer.
Forget the money, yes. But be flexible. At every turn, there is an opportunity if you are primed to notice it.
Ask yourself every day, “What do I desire?” And be strong enough to acknowledge the answer and take action, even if the answer is, “Money.”
Sometimes I imagine I am a woman on her death bed.
How else to explain the sense of wonder I have the minute I pull out of my driveway each morning to head to work?
Before I even leave the boundaries of my small community in Northern Israel, my head turns from side to side looking out the car window for a sign of nature’s wonder.
Morning light breaking through a stunning cloud formation overhead.
The sun rising over the Eshkol Reservoir.
The first kalanit popping up in the fields lining the road into our neighborhood.
Who else does this but a woman about to die?
Sometimes I catch myself imagining I am her — a woman on her death bed.
I am paralyzed. Frightened.
Could it be true?
What if it was?
And then I laugh with the realization that it is true.
We all are.
We are born to die.
And as much as we fear it, we spend our lives rushing towards it…towards death.
Rushing through breakfast; pushing the kids out the door; grabbing three different bags – a laptop bag, a lunch bag, a pocketbook – and throwing them into the back seat. We drink a to-go cup of coffee on the way. We turn on the radio and scan the words for news. News that will help us make decisions; make us feel right; make us feel wrong.
Get us there quicker.
We breeze by our coworkers; we tweet through our days. Our fingers sore from scrolling, from typing, from pointing.
Who else but a woman about to die notices the teeny tiny wren perched on the tallest branch of a pine tree across the street from the entrance to Rafael?
Who else catches through her passenger side window the hearty laugh of a teenage girl in a bronze glittery head scarf waiting for the bus to Karmiel?
Who else but a woman on the brink of demise notices the blend of hope and fear on the faces of the black men – the ones standing on the side of the kikar at the entrance to Kfar Manda — as she passes them during rush hour?
Who else but a woman about to die?
We characterize our behavior as “living,” but really we are rushing towards death. Getting there quicker, richer, righter.
Until we stop.
And in the moment we stop – in the slow minutes spent behind a tractor trailer chugging up a hill, for instance – we slow down death.