Tuesday, March 02, 2004

The Note

“There’s no school on Sunday!” ten-year-old Merav declared on a recent Friday as she arrived home at the end of classes that day. She was dancing around the room like it was the beginning of summer vacation rather than a cold day in the middle of winter.

“Who says?” I asked.

“There’s going to be a strike. Didn’t you hear, Abba?”

Of course I had heard. This year has been the worst ever in the country’s history for strikes. Government offices were closed for nearly four months, and the schools have been shut down at least three times since the start of the academic year.

You would think that in a country where buses and cafes are blown up on a regular basis; a country which has reported over 19,000 terror incidents in the last three years alone, that the unions and the legislators would be able to minimize any unnecessary additional stress on the population. Like not providing basic services such as education.

On the other hand, maybe this is a good thing. Another potent symbol of how we continue to go on with our normal lives despite an unending wall of terror. That is if your concept of “normal” includes a new strike every other week.

In the case of the most recent strike action, it wasn’t the teachers but the assistants, the sanitation workers, secretaries and security guards who were walking off the job in protest against salaries not paid. The last time this happened, classes were held but the teachers were instructed by the union heads to act as glorified babysitters. So the kids played jump rope and decorated the walls.

The news reported that this time, however, the union had instructed its members to teach…as long as the parents got together and hired their own security guards.

Another symbol of normal life in Israel: without an armed guard posted outside, learning can’t take place. It’s enough to make you long to be a teenager again back in the old country, where the main security concern administrators had to contend with was how to keep us rambunctious kids on campus at lunchtime and away from the nearby Burger King and Kentucky Fried Chicken.

I told Merav what I’d heard on the news. “It looks like you’ll have to go school,” I said with a not-so-sad face.

“But we got a note!” Merav reported, hoping to un-harden what she perceived as my petty pre-Pharaohnic heart.

“Let me see it,” I demanded.

“No,” Merav replied.

“No?” I said, confused. Why withhold evidence intended to support her case? And in any case, that’s not something you say to a direct order from your father. “Come on, hand it over.”

Merav pulled out a crumpled up piece of paper and started to read.

“Dear Parents. As you know there is a planned strike for Sunday.”

She then put the paper promptly back in her pocket.

“Hey, what’s the rest of it say!” I said.

But then something happened I didn’t expect. Defiance turned to tears. Merav’s face twisted up, her mouth contorted and she flushed a distinct and distraught red.

“Merav, seriously. I need to know what the rest of the note says,” I continued.

Slowly, the full story began to unfurl. Apparently, Merav and her friend Sarah had made a plan. They were taking the day off and going swimming. They’d already worked out all the details – the timing, the clothes, who was getting the pizza.

“Merav, the note…”

“I read it to you already. There’s no school!”

I debated trying to physically snatch it out of her pocket. But that didn’t seem right. I put on my angry face.

She handed it over finally. I read.

“Despite the strike, there will be a regular school day. Please send your children.”

“Oh Merav…”

“We had had it all worked out. It’s not fair. It’s just not fair!”

The next morning, Merav headed off to school. She wasn’t happy but she didn’t fight it either. Later that afternoon, when she came home I asked how it went.

She was practically breathless “Great! We practiced all day for the big concert coming up. We had choir and dance and violin. Did I tell you about the concert? It’s Tuesday at 6. You can come, right?”

“Of course,” I replied. “So it’s a good thing you went to school. See what you would have missed.”

“I still would have preferred to stay home.”

“Really?”

“OK, not really…so can I go to the pool now?”

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