For the past few months, we’ve had two nagging government-related must-do tasks hanging over our heads: DMV for Philippe, Benjamin and me to obtain Israeli drivers’ licenses and the Ministry of Interior to renew Benjamin and Daniella’s passports.
For weeks, the three of us have penned in DMV on different days only for one of us to cancel at the last minute. Finally, last Wednesday, we were determined. For Philippe and me, it was only a question of updating our defunct Israeli licenses, which we had possessed in the early 1990s. For Benjamin, it was vague and trickier and we had no idea how to proceed.
Tuesday night, we heard that the public sector might be striking, starting the next day. Our trip to the DMV might be cancelled—again—and not because of our doing. Sure enough, when Philippe checked on Wednesday morning, he learned there was a country-wide strike. Not only was the DMV closed but also trains were down, preventing Benjamin from getting to and from work.
With my day open, I decided to venture out into Raanana and run errands that had been piling up: bank to pick up checkbooks, library to return books, supermarket. It was a beautiful day and I slathered on sunscreen for the first time in a while. I headed directly to Bank Hapoalim, parked, took the elevator to the second floor, turned right down the hall, didn’t see the usual security guard on the stool, saw closed doors and a sign saying closed. I read the hours on the sign outside the door, not registering why no one was there, until I remembered—the strike. Turning around, I marched downstairs, out the door and back to the car and looked for a parking spot closer to the library. I parked, took my books, entered the Yad Lebanim building where the security guard sat behind his booth and wagged his finger at me, “Sagur,” he barked, closed, “shvitah,” he said, reminding me of the strike—again. I turned around and decided to hold my books while doing other less important errands rather than return to the car and admit defeat.
Twenty years ago, when I met and married Philippe and did my masters at University of Haifa, I remember enduring a lot of strikes: professors, university workers, health care, buses. Then we left. Four years ago when we spent the year, secondary school teachers went on a strike that lasted around two months, an unheard of amount of time. But overall, during the intervening years, I had forgotten the far-reaching ramifications of strikes, how they can affect each and every one of us. For some, they mean not being able to get to work and being docked a day’s pay and, for others, it means missing a long-ago scheduled doctor’s appointment that might take months to reserve.
Israel is a country with a democracy, a Supreme Court, a president and a prime minister and far too many political parties to name. It is a country with socialized medicine, free for 18 year olds in the army and all-around inexpensive for us warped Americans. It is a country where workers belong to unions, where they strike when their rights are not being respected and they are underpaid. Israel is a country where people pitch tents in front of city halls to protest rising prices of cottage cheese. Lastly, it is a country where people rush to the rescue, to help when someone is stranded by the side of the road, wearing obligatory fluorescent yellow vests while waiting for help. It is not a perfect country but it is a place where people care and stand up and chime in, where apathy and status quo are not acceptable.
When Philippe, Benjamin and I finally went to the DMV the week after, we headed east to get on the highway. As soon as we hit the first roundabout on a cut-through street, we were stopped in a traffic jam. Three men frantically parked their cars and leapt from them, running to a stalled white Honda blocking part of the traffic circle, where an older gentleman sat behind the steering wheel, awake but not moving. Maybe he had a heart attack and swerved off the road or maybe he was suddenly disoriented after overshooting the turn in the road. Perhaps he was dehydrated, ready to pass out. Anything was possible. But what was amazing was the speed at which three younger men raced to his side, to help him, move his car, call for help.
Israel is country where I am constantly reminded of the good and the bad—and vice versa. As much as I might have been inconvenienced during the strike, which lasted a few days off and on over a week, I am surrounded by and reminded of humanity and the greater good on an almost daily basis.