Sunday, October 15, 2006

Well, Goodbye to All That....

It may seem odd given Israel's frequent elections, but I had the opportunity to vote for Natan Sharansky - the only politician I ever actually voted FOR in my life - only once. It was in 2003, the same year Russian immigrants abandoned Sharansky's immigrant party, dropping it to a Knesset-minimum two seats and forcing it to merge with the Likud, never to be heard from again.

It feels particularly odd to me because Sharansky's political career roughly matches my time in Israel. I was at WUJS in Arad during his first election campaign in 1996, when he came out of nowhere (besides a Soviet prison) and won seven seats in Knesset. The same year, I read his autobiography, Fear No Evil, and decided he should be Prime Minister.

I wasn't alone. When I mentioned Sharansky to English speakers, many seemed to agree: Sharansky was the next great Jewish leader, the man to help us build a real Jewish state. When the security situation finally recedes to the background, we reasoned, Sharansky would help heal the internal rifts that were eating away our souls.

As a politician, Sharansky was an inspiriation. He talked about the Jewish people as an organic whole, inside or outside Israel. When a Jewish community in the diaspora was threatened, he argued, the Jewish state was obligated to show support. And the same was true in the inverse. Jews everywhere would support Israel because they were part of its development, even if they never set foot on its land. These were magical ideas for a recent immigrant like me, who wanted nothing more than to feel a sense of common destiny with Israel. This was exactly the kind of state I wanted to help Sharansky build.

When he dropped a seat in the next election, the loss was tempered by his success wresting the Interior Ministry from Shas, which held a mighty 17 seats to Sharansky's six. His party's infamous "Shas Kontrol? Net, nash Kontrol!" slogan - directed at Russian speakers - gave a powerful voice to the new generation of immigrants. And when his party dropped to four seats after Roman Bronfman split off and later joined Meretz, I figured he'd get his seats back in the next election.

By the time the next election came around, Israel had been branded an illegitimate apartheid state at the UN's Conference on Racism in Durban and Palestinian suicide bombers struck Israeli coffee shops, shopping malls, and buses in unprecedented numbers as world leaders condemned Israel for defending its citizens. Someone had to stand up for the human rights of the Israeli people. The times, it seemed, were ripe for Sharansky to fulfill his destiny as the leader of the Jews.

Unfortunatly, the Israeli public never took to Sharansky as the Anglo population did. And when the Russian sector also lost interest, the party was sunk. I volunteered on his campaign and watched the party drop into oblivion. But almost immediately, it looked like a blessing in disguise. As a minister in the new Likud government, Sharansky was responsible for Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs. Who better to handle these roles than Sharansky? And as a member of the Likud party, he stood a real chance of winning the office of Prime Minister.

The natural outgrowth of the Yisrael Ba'aliyah party's implosion was the disappearance of Israel's only true and inclusive immigrant party. The Russians he had represented moved on, either to Avigdor Lieberman's ideological Yisrael Beiteinu/National Union party or to other "Israeli" parties. They had integrated better and faster than anyone anticipated.

I, however, still felt like an immigrant and longed to have my party back. But now that Sharansky announced his retirement from politics, it seems like a good time to say goodbye to all that. The time has come to lose the immigrant identity and start feeling like an Israeli. After nearly 10 years, the time has come.

Easier said than done. But all things must start somewhere. I'm grateful to Sharansky for all the inspiration he provided. And I'm grateful for his latest lesson - the need to know when its time to move on in life.


At 12:15 AM, Blogger oishkapipik said...


I am not ready to say goodbye to Sharansky!! He is the only politician that I really felt was real.

I totally related to your blog!

But man there is still a big part of me that says somehow Sharanky is going to pull it off somehow!!

He never got his shot!! Its just not fair.

Also as long as we have that slight accent in our voices when we speak hebrew we will always be new immigrants in their eyes.

But who cares, its how we see ourselves. I feel I am just as Israeli as anyone else. I even yell back at Taxi drivers and don't feel bad about it when I get out of the cab.

I throw in a "ma pi tom" even in times when its not needed.

I try to use the "rega" hand gesture as often as possible.

I wear sandals on days in which I should probably be wearing shoes.

the works!!

At 2:25 PM, Blogger Kalman Rushdie said...

Oish - I think you're right about Sharansky in that he didn't get his shot yet but ultimately will. I just don't think it will be through the Knesset. I volunteered at one of his projects when he was Diaspora Minister. That's the stuff he loves to do - Jewish life stuff. He isn't really up for the nuts and bolts of legislative work.

But on more important matters, when are we going to see new stuff on A Silent Jam? You fans are waiting. You can't let us down.

At 6:12 PM, Blogger oishkapipik said...

I have been meaning to post soon!!
Have you ever read "the peak" and are too embarassed to give me a response???

At 5:08 PM, Blogger Kalman Rushdie said...

Oh no! I meant to and then I completely forgot! I'm so sorry.

I will read it within a week. I promise.

Still, no excuse to keep the rest of the world in suspense for the next Silent Jam.

At 7:45 PM, Blogger oishkapipik said...

Alrighty Chief!

How about that lunch date for Shabbat?

Starting to post again due to Kalman Rushdie pressure


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