‘Did you know that people in Israel are out protesting because only a few families control the entire country?” asked someone who shall remain nameless.
Let’s just say, she’s related to me.
“Oh, she just read the Ethan Bronner article in The New York Times, so suddenly she’s discovered the protests in Israel,” said my girlfriend knowingly. Her relatives back home in America pull similar stunts.
Which is another way of saying, even though she is a reporter for a major media station, her nameless relative once asked her, in complete sincerity, if she ever “covered the peace process.”
“No,” she retorted. “I cover everything but the peace process.”
“Well, you don’t have to be nasty about it!” said her you-know-what.
But this is not a story about mothers.
It’s a story about an Israel in the throes of social unrest. Because except for the mini-war the just erupted (and fortunately seems to have dissipated) in the south, you’d have to be living under a rock to not know about the mega protests that have shaken Israel like an earthquake.
This summer, over a quarter of a million Israelis have taken to the streets, placards in hand, chanting, “The people demand social justice.”
Tent cities have overtaken the entire country, from trendy Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv to the poorer peripheries like Beersheva and Dimona.
Even I, a decidedly non-political person, got in on the action. And why not? I’m also a citizen. I pay taxes. And I can’t make a living just like everyone else.
The only thing I’ll say about the experience is although it was empowering, in reality it was just crowded. Squashed between the sweaty masses kind of crowded. I lasted about 10 minutes.
And I probably shouldn’t admit this in public, but the only thing that really made an impression was how these nimble young men scaled this very high wall in order to sit in comfort and look down upon the crowd. All they needed was a La-Z-Boy recliner and some snacks and they would have been set!
But this isn’t about cute boys who are too young for me.
It’s about that one little riddle that has eluded me ever since moving here: How in the heck do people live in this country?
Because you don’t have to be Alan Greenspan to know that the cost of living is exorbitantly high, yet the salaries are mind-numbingly low. Really, low.
I make what is considered a good salary yet it was what I was making over 15 years ago in America when I was right out of college.
What I’m trying to say is that if they’re lucky, a professional couple with college degrees and good, stable jobs are bringing home maybe $60,000, tops. But the cost of food and rent and everything else is the same as it is in major U.S. cities — and sometimes even higher.
People just can’t live on that. They can’t support a family. They can’t make ends meet.
What I quickly discovered is that everyone is in “minus,” which means that even though there’s nothing in the bank, people are constantly dipping into that nothingness, which means they are digging themselves into greater and greater debt.
This does not stop them from spending money. On the contrary, they just charge more on their credit cards and take out more loans. They work multiple jobs. And they are very worn down. Because no matter what they do, they will never catch up.
How to make sense of it all?
I don’t know about other Americans living here, but I do all of my research on dates.
So you can imagine how excited I was to be set up with an economist. Finally, I thought, some answers! But all he did was blame wealthy French tourists for jacking up real estate prices.
But what about socialism, I wanted to know. Is this economic conundrum what happens when a country founded on socialist principles suddenly gives way to capitalism?
“You have to remember that the government pays for a lot of things,” yet another date informed me. There’s socialized medicine, for one, and also utilities are subsidized.
“You can definitely make a living here, you just have to know how to work the system,” he added, winking. Let the record show that he was the only person I’ve met here who actually makes money. A lawyer, he also had some businesses on the side. He was also slimy and smoked what seemed like a pack a minute — not that I have anything against men who “make a little money,” as a certain relative of mine often suggests, wistfully.
But this isn’t about my love life.
It’s about a country whose citizens have finally had enough.
I certainly hope that instead of answers, very soon we shall have some solutions.
Abigail Pickus’ column appears the first week of the month.