When I’ve had enough coffee in the morning, I choose to listen to the Israeli news on my drive to work instead of the latest self help guru I am following.
Truth is, I am not fluent in Hebrew enough yet to understand exactly what the newscaster reports, but I know enough key words to get the gist of the headlines, and unfortunately too many keywords not to panic when I hear pigua (attack) or Ahmadinejad.
Celebrity news, like Whitney Houston’s death this year, comes through loud and clear. I love it when they splice in a comment in English from Obama or, in the case of Whitney, Crying Funeral Goer #4. I feel really smart in those moments.
But when they start discussing the crime beat or internal political developments, I am in way over my head. Not only that, but I also get this overwhelming feeling that I should be understanding what they’re discussing. Like, it’s important or something.
Whenever I get into work, and I want to find out the details of the crime story I was trying so hard to keep up with, I never can. For some reason, the English versions of the Israeli newspapers never publish the good stuff, like the crime beat or comics or coupons to spas. But they serve up plenty of politics. They think people who read the English version only want to or should know about Jonathan Pollard, archaeological finds discovered in the middle of a new highway construction project or politics.
Man, are politics boring.
That gasp you just heard was from my editor. And from my best friend Alison, a Canadian diplomat who eats politics for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The gasp was also from my college advisor, the guy who pushed me towards an International Politics major, when really I should have stuck with journalism or archaeology. The gasp was from my Israeli co-workers who feel compelled to, every once in a while, talk during our lunch hour about government and high taxes, rather than whether or not tomatoes are in season or how to best cook eggplant. And the gasp was from my fellow bloggers who couldn’t get to the computer fast enough when the news was announced this morning of Netanyahu’s new unity government.
I am a good example of how the education system fails our youth. I actually studied Israeli politics. I took at least one college course on the subject, as well as another on the country’s history. I remember learning about Mapai and Mapam and Jabotinsky and Ben Gurion. I interned during my college years at the Embassy of Israel, Public Affairs office, and at two Israel-related Washington think tanks. I also worked in the arena for two years after graduating college — people actually paid me to think about and write about Israeli politics. And then some people paid me again ten years later when I worked for Jewish newspapers in the States.
And yet, now that I live here, Israeli politics is the last thing I want to think or write or talk about.
Maybe that does make me a dummy.
You know the first thing I thought yesterday when I heard on the radio “blah blah elections blah blah September?” I thought, “Do I get to vote?” And, “If so, how do I do that?” And, “What kind of voting system do they have here in Israel? Do I still go to the lobby of my kid’s school or the local church and hide behind a curtain and pull down a tab?”
Are the voting booths rigged? Do Israeli Arabs get to vote? Do Bedouin? Can I be an elected official someday? How good does my Hebrew have to be in that case?
That train of thought continued for a long time. I won’t bore you with details.
Afterwards, I felt guilty. You know, a “Rock the Vote” kind of guilt. That feeling that I should be more informed about the politics in Israel and certainly be more opinionated. How can I possibly call myself Israeli if I don’t have a political opinion?
And yet, I don’t. Not a strong one at least. At most, I have a couple of minorly informed biases that probably date back to my college days. It’s similar to how I root root root for the Phillies… circa 1983.
My attitude about politics was not much different when I lived in America.
The extent to which I followed politics when I lived in the States — at least for the last 10 years since caring for my children consumed almost every last cell of my brain — was to decide which Democrat I liked best in the presidential primary, then mentally vote for him or her, then be sour when she didn’t win the primary. I did actually vote in the last U.S. presidential election, so I rocked that vote. Go Obama!
I also would occasionally sign a petition or participate in a “blog-in”, particularly if it had to do with food reform or childbirth choices. But mostly, I try to change people, not government. I find the results to be more impactful, particularly in the short-term. And I also find the conversation to be more engaging, less boring.
People who talk politics are a little bit too sophisticated for me. And clicky. It’s too hard to join the conversation when you don’t know the language. It’s like starting Lost on Season 4. To understand today’s big news in Israel, I have to first know that Mofaz is a person and not a citrus fruit. Only then can I start to understand how he sold his soul to the devil.
Don’t try to convince me or lecture me. I am fully aware of how irresponsible my position is. Just like I know it’s really important my kid learn math, but I just can’t compel myself to make him do his math homework. It’s just too boring.
I think I have an interim solution though. Start watching more Israeli TV. There’s this SNL like TV show that everyone thinks is hilarious called Eretz Nehederet. Funny people are people I have patience for — a lot more than politicians.
Jen Maidenberg is a writer, editor, activist and former assistant editor at the Arizona Jewish Post. Visit her website at http://jenmaidenberg.com/.This was first posted on her blog on May 8, 2012.