Same Same – But Different

July 31st, 2023

By Emily Levy-Shochat, MERCAZ Olami, President

Early this morning, wearing a red t-shirt I bought a few years ago which has "same same" printed on the front and "but different" on the back, I drove from my home in central Israel to my daughter’s kibbutz in the lower Galilee. I was bringing my 9-year-old granddaughter who lives near us to join her kibbutz cousins, ages 6 and 8, in three days of horse riding camp, hours in the pool and family time.

What could be better in this unrelenting 36-degree heat? Better to keep busy than to hang around complaining about the weather.

But things feel different today. Same same - but different. The beauty of the fields, forests, grazing cows along the way; the pleasure of seeing our young grandchildren playing together and our kids building their lives was the same as they have been for years. But the recent vote of 64 to 0 which begins the transformation of the Supreme Court –a basic institution in a democracy—to a tool of increasing the power and control of the government, shades everything in a new, dark light.

The beauty is still here, my family is still a source of great happiness, but the country has changed. Yes, democratic elections took place, different ideologies which have co-existed in Israel since its very beginning were expressed, but this time, the election results have dangerous implications unlike any others during Israel’s 75 years. Same same - but different.

Stopping along the way, I filled my gas tank alongside Haredim, Arabs and others, but I saw them differently than usual. I could not help but seeing each as a representative of a sore spot in our country. One group is the Haredim many of whom would like to turn Israel into a theocracy. Of course, they don’t word it that way; they use obfuscating language to justify the manipulation of essential parts of a healthy society—its army, economy, education, housing and religious nature – to meet their needs.

And, as I looked at the Arabs, I couldn’t blot out the increasing violence in their communities— violence uncontrolled, thanks to what seems to be intentional neglect by the Minister of Internal Security who was himself arrested in the past for terrorism against Arabs. I recalled the Arab-Jewish women’s group in which I participated during the year prior to the Gulf War. We disagreed on things but also found much in common. Most importantly, we felt safe to meet, to talk to share—whether in Kfar Saba or Tira. Were it to exist today it would be same-same but quite different.

The details of daily life go on, politics go on, but I feel a different connection to the country to which Jack and I made Aliya almost 50 years ago. Our aim wasnot to run away from America but, rather, with excitement, to help build the still young State.

Today I feel as if I am living in a virtual reality. It is impossible to believe it is same-same. It feels as if everything has taken on new dimensions, from prices at the market to job security in high tech and elsewhere. I am sad and scared and angry.

I guess that I have been wearing my red t-shirt more than usual these past weeks-partly because red has become the color of the women’s resistance to democratic change, but also, subconsciously, the words embossed on it reflect something happening within me, within my country.

In spite of it all, I believe that the direction can be changed. We cannot allow the current government to destroy so much of what I, and millions of Jews here and across the world, hold dear. We must continue to peacefully demonstrate and act to protect the values we believe in and which the Israel Declaration of Independence embraces.

I know that I need to take a day or two, breathe deep, cry a little, put my t-shirt on and get back to the call of the moment, to the same-same.

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We are MERCAZ Olami, the political arm in the National Institutions of the worldwide Conservative/Masorti Movement, based in Jerusalem, Israel.
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