Lately there have been a number of high profile neglect cases in Israel. We’ve learned that many Holocaust survivors live in abject poverty. A woman revered as a spiritual authority was found to have abused and neglected many of her children. And in just the past few weeks, there have been three cases of children neglected in airports: A four-year-old girl was accidentally left in Ben Gurion Airport when her parents failed to keep track of all six of their children en route to Paris. An 8-year-old boy was accidentally flown to Brussels instead of Munich (this appears to be the fault of his El Al escort), and a 12-year-old was sent to the UK by her mother, with no one scheduled to meet her at the airport, and only the address—which turned out to be incorrect—of a family friend. When her mother was found and arrested, she explained that she couldn’t care for her kids and wanted them to find political asylum in the UK. Turns out she’d already sent her 9-year-old to Leeds.
There are plenty of cases of severe neglect reported in America every year (this story comes to mind), but in Israel it seems to be a symptom of the political situation. Israelis walk around all day trying to distract themselves from their own suffering and trauma. It seems to me that as a result of having to push their own personal grief below the surface, they also end up ignoring all kinds of suffering that they see around them, be it the suffering of Palestinians, Holocaust survivors, or even their own children. To a certain degree, we all push those thoughts aside in order to get through the day, but we try to maintain a sense of compassion. In Israel, because it’s nearly impossible to really ignore the suffering, society has developed a sort of flat affect. Neglect happens and everyone acts shocked but quickly moves on, not wanting to dwell on any more pain. There’s something about the Israeli machismo that appealing, and that makes me proud to be Jewish. But there’s something ugly under that machismo — a gaping hole where I’d expect to see compassion, and it’s horrifying.