Israel is a small country. This is part of its appeal. Everything seems closer here and, as such, more meaningful; nothing is ever that far away. I have written previously about numerous victims of terrors and wars who have had a connection to me. However, personal connections also exist with heroes celebrated in life.
In 2005, when Robert Aumann won the Nobel prize in Economics for his work on conflict and cooperation through game-theory analysis, it turned out that he was the grandfather of one of the kids in my son’s, Maytav’s, nursery school class. The uncle of another classmate is a deputy minister in the government. No individual, hero or victim is ever too far removed in a country whose population share a common kinship.
This familiarity does not just exist in the personal relationships that are discovered by playing Jewish Geography, but also through the relationships established by building a life here. I served in the army with a well-known Israeli TV and radio performer; I have done business, creating a Web site for the family of the greatest Israeli spy, our man in Damascus, Eli Cohen; I attend synagogue with a senior newspaper editor, a world renowned archaeologist, several published authors, professors and a well-known Refusenik; and I have attended numerous events with Members of Knesset, Ministers and Prime Ministers.
Given Israel’s size, it is not uncommon to cross paths with such notables. Mayor Teddy Kollek had an office next to mine; (former) Prime Minister Netanyahu has dined in a restaurant at a table next to me; when he was Mayor of Jerusalem, I would often see Prime Minister Ehud Olmert at events where my wife worked at the time, the Bible Lands Museum Jerusalem.
Therefore, it is not so surprising that the President of Israel and the Mayor of Jerusalem visited my children on the first day of school this year. This meant that the children actually had to start a day early. It could not be that the first day with all of its confusion and parents taking pictures would be the day that the dignitaries visited. For those performing for the President and the Mayor, including my son Shemer who is in the choir, school stared a week early filled with rehearsals. However, the children did not seem to mind parting with the last days of summer vacation in order to receive the President.
My middle son Maytav started first grade this year. He was nervous enough starting a new school without the President and Mayor visiting on his first day. (Kindergarten is a separate institution in Israel. Elementary school starts in first grade.) It was almost a sadistic joke to play on the five and six year olds who reluctantly enter the halls of the public educational system on their first day. At one point about a week before school he looked very worried and said “What if the President doesn’t like me?”
At our orientation, the principal told all the first grade parents that the first day of school would be Sunday, August 31 when the students would come for a two hour introductory day. That is when all the photos were to be taken, the tears shed and the parents able to linger. On September first, the first official day of school, we were to drop off our youngsters quickly and without production, leaving as quickly as possibly and arriving an hour before the school day normally begins so preparations could be made for the President’s and Mayor’s arrival. By the way, they also let us know we’d have to walk because all the streets would be closed.
I suppose it is an early lesson about how we are treated by our government institutions, be they the school system with its overcrowded classrooms and underpaid teachers, the army with inadequate supplies or planning, the government with its corruption and impotence regarding our captured soldiers.
Don’t get me wrong. The kids were thrilled and it is an occasion they will remember their entire life. Maybe it will even help them remember the important facts that the curriculum requires them to memorize like the President’s name. Having the President of Israel and the Mayor of Jerusalem visit our school is one of the advantages of being a big fish in this small pond called Israel. It was exciting.
I only wish that, as a new year begins, the government would provide Maytav with a class with less than 35 kids in a classroom so that he could get the attention he needs to be his best.