Elections were held in Israel on November 1, 2022, with the result that the right-wing bloc received a clear majority. A week after the government was formed, the justice minister presented his plan for significant changes in the judicial system. The proposed changes would give the government and its leader unlimited powers, prompting citizens to take to the streets to vent their anger – I was one of them.
Already at the first demonstration no one could overlook the old lady. She was in a wheelchair and wrapped in the Israeli flag. Her name: Tony Webber. She is my friend’s mother and Holocaust survivor.
Twenty years ago, when I wanted to fly with an Israeli delegation to the March of the Living to Auschwitz in Poland – on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day – Toni asked me to come to her urgently. “When you are there in Auschwitz,” she said, “tell my parents that I was saved, that I am in Eretz Israel (traditional Hebrew name for Israel, editor’s note.) have arrived and that I am in the Haganah (Zionist underground organization in Palestine during the British Mandate 1920-1948, editor’s note.) fought. Tell them I’m not hungry, I have a home and a family, and there’s not a day that I don’t remember them.”
As she spoke, she prepared a package. Inside she put a bouquet of flowers from her garden, fresh challah (traditional Jewish bread, editor’s note) and a silver spoon that her mother had given her before she left – with the words: “So that you have something to eat .” Toni asked me to bury all this in the ground near the crematorium. I did.
Lizzie Doron’s friend Toni Webber takes part in the demonstrations in a wheelchair. Their sticker says, “Kahanism, racism, homophobia: not in our school!”
We now meet every Saturday evening at the corner of what is now called the “Demonstration Square”. “I know what fascism is,” Toni says to me, “promise me that you won’t give up!” She looks at me with a piercing gaze. And I promise her.
shivers of the past
The rift in the Israeli population is widening, the tensions in the country are increasing and with them the violence. A sense of the state of emergency is spreading among the liberal and secular populace. In the eyes of many government officials and right-wing activists, people like Toni and I are a gang of anarchists, traitors and fascists. Some have already been arrested.
After the fifth demonstration, a group of angry youth follows me home. “Death to the Left!” call. My heart is pounding as they follow me to the front door of my house. I rush up the stairs to my apartment – and they disappear.
That night, as I was desperately trying to fall asleep, my mother appeared to me in a dream. She wore a tattered coat, scuffed shoes and carried a worn suitcase. In a voice as clear as my childhood, she said to me, “In a place where death is shouted at people, you must get up and leave.” “But I’m going,” I answer her. She stared at me, didn’t understand me. “I go to the demonstrations,” I explain. “You have to go. You have to go,” she repeats several times. “Take care of yourself”, she adds and disappeared.
“Too bad Hitler didn’t kill you”
Meanwhile, the government is staying the course it has set and the protests are growing stronger. Hundreds of thousands waved Israeli flags and shouted at the top of their lungs: “This is not Poland, this is not Hungary, this is neither Turkey nor Iran.” They yell, “DE-MO-CRA-CY!” Hatred and violence are spreading. Some dream of an orthodox religious state, others of a democratic state – and hostility continues to grow.
At every demonstration, Toni and I painfully ask ourselves, “What happened? How did it come to this?” Memories of the terrible days in Europe between 1933 and 1939 surfaced – and with them the fear. In the 12th week of the protests, a car pulled up right next to us, a man looked out and yelled, “Too bad Hitler didn’t kill you! God willing, you’ll burn in the gas chambers.” I hoped Toni hadn’t heard. I came to the next demonstration with a pepper spray. But I didn’t tell her about it.
The demonstrations continue
After Holocaust Remembrance Day came Israel’s Day of Remembrance for Fallen Soldiers. The demonstrations have reached week 16. As every year, I put a bouquet of flowers on Davidi’s grave.
On my first day of school, Davidi sat next to me. My mother was happy because he was an only child like me and his mother had experienced the Holocaust like my mother. If someone hit me during the break, Davidi would slap them in the face. If someone tried to steal my lunch, Davidi would step in and stop it. In third grade he told me he loved me and I blushed. He bought me a red lollipop, and in sixth grade we joined the Boy Scouts together. My mother only allowed me to do this because Davidi would also be there. We went everywhere together. Davidi was convinced that we would never experience a Holocaust again. He said that we would always protect our country.
We spoke with pride about the Israel Defense Forces and we spoke about equality, justice and peace. We didn’t always stay that close, as we grew we made new friends. But the day he got his draft and told me he was going to join the army, he swore he would protect me. On Yom Kippur 1973, when the war broke out, Davidi was home at two o’clock in the afternoon. He rushed to report to his unit. In his uniform and with his gun in hand, he came up to me and said he was really serious this time. “My armor and I will protect you,” he promised. We hugged and I said to him, “Take care.” He replied, “Sure.” But he didn’t come back.
“Tears in my eyes”
Fifty years have now passed. Israel celebrates its 75th birthday. But something broke inside me. Why was Davidi killed? And although I promised Toni that I would never stop fighting for my country, I’m afraid that I’ll get tired.
On the evening of Independence Day (according to the Jewish calendar, the anniversary fell on April 26, after the Gregorian calendar May 14th is the key date, d. Red.) I made my way back to the demonstration site, assuming that Toni was waiting for me. But she called and said she couldn’t come because she had heart problems. But she asked me to go – and not to despair, “because you know that we have no other country”. I told her I was on my way and she replied, “Take care. Have a nice Independence Day.”
“You too,” I replied. And so I stood with the Israeli flag in my hand, pepper spray in my pocket and tears in my eyes on the demonstration square and celebrated the 75th Independence Day of the State of Israel.