Photo: Eli Elgarat
Yad Vashem's chairman, Lapid Senior
Photo: Eli Elgarat

The rule of the nudniks*

The people who run our lives are not politicians or generals. Nor are they the media or even Supreme Court judges. The people who really run our lives are the nudniks

The nudniks always win because they have the necessary patience. They are the ones who write letter after letter, turn to lawyers, and contact every municipal functionary and government clerk. The nudniks will call at seven in the morning because nudniks are early risers. They will submit petition after petition to the courts, annoy newspaper editors, send complaints to television stations, and flood the minister’s office with letters, set up NGOs for like-minded nudniks who will ceaselessly work for their nudnik causes.


The nudniks have taught us the hard way that it is unwise to ignore them. The nudnik is the only guy in your apartment building who refuses to pay to have an elevator installed because he did his own research and found that it will lower the value of the balconies in 2012 and he has the documents to prove it. Meanwhile his wife is the one organizing a meeting of the kindergarten parents because "the teacher is not teaching the children the alphabet, and what will happen to them when they get to first grade?" (The answer is, by the way, that they will learn the alphabet.)


The nudniks are those who call at midnight in order to get you to shut down the party because "some of us have to work in the morning you know." They will be the first to get the phone number of their son’s commanding officer and inform him that after their inquiries and according to military law, their son is entitled to sleep six hours a day.


They will bother everyone in the neighborhood with fliers in their mailboxes because the sidewalk next to the supermarket is cracked in two places. They are the ones who stand in the middle of the a crosswalk and devote a very long minute to staring scornfully at you because you didn’t brake fast enough. The nudniks love to tell people off. It’s what they live for.


They even influence this column you are reading now. They don’t tell me what to write, not yet anyway but they absolutely tell me what not to say. A month ago, for example, I was in Paris where I went to a breathtaking exhibition of impressionist painter Claude Monet. I did not write about it because I am afraid of the nudniks. I don’t want them to start talking about my financial situation and the question of how I dare to have the audacity to go to France when people in Dimona have nothing to eat. I try to save my editors the letters that say "Qassams are falling on Sderot and Lapid goes to art exhibits." What do I need this for? Better to write again about Olmert.


But that’s a problem too because the last time I interviewed the prime minister, a number of nudniks got together and sent a complaint to the comptroller of the Second Channel accusing me of blackmail. They charged that Olmert was the one who appointed my father (Yosef Lapid) chairman of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Authority. As luck would have it, the position is a voluntary one and my father doesn’t receive a cent. (The nudniks failed to check this out thoroughly because bothering to learn the facts takes precious time away from their nudnik activities.)


In the meantime, the letters went out and the websites filled up with talkbacks. The comptroller was asked to clarify the issue and I had to write a letter of explanation and the attorney for the television show checked out what the law says and there is always someone, some nudnik evolving who will tell you with a smirk that "you are absolutely right of course, but it’s a shame we did not know it before."


Slowly everything becomes a little uncomfortable, a little stifling and what is really weird is that because everyone wants a piece of you it seems that it is you who hesitates.


So you think twice even thrice. You start taking the nudniks into every consideration because they love to litigate. One of the main problems of the well-known judicial activism is that it’s a nudnik’s paradise. Courts admit them, listen politely and invite them for a second hearing. And even if you win it was after driving to Jerusalem four times, always on the hottest days always when you had something better to do. In the end it gets really hard to hold back the urge to admit that it would have been easier to interview Ninette.


And I’m just a small cog in the wheel. Israeli politics is rife with nudniks. They influence private members bills in the Knesset, the voting, the committee discussions, the decisions. Every time a minister makes a decision, he has to take into account that the implementation will be delayed until the nudniks finish their petitioning, their complaints and their statements to the press, their tough demands always accompanied by a clenched fist ordering the issue be reexamined because the nudniks are not satisfied. They are never satisfied.


If the government decides to build a road, the nudniks who worry about the indigenous bird population will go ballistic. If the government decides not to build the same exact road then it will face the nudnik who wants to get home before dark and then there's the third nudnik who was told by his grandfather on his death bed that there was once a cemetery exactly at the place where you turn right to Beit Shemesh. There isn’t a place in Israel anymore where a straight line connects two points.


Sometimes it can be dangerous since in a country where no governments lasts more than two years, the nudniks have the ability to stall things giving them a new kind of undemocratic power. If you want to establish a new city, to start an unexpected peace process, or a justified war or to begin the excavations of the Red-Dead Sea canal for the 38th time, the nudniks just have to start to operate their sophisticated pest control apparatus. Three years later, the honorable minister has a different position and the only thing remaining from what was an excellent initiative is his stuttering testimony in front of the unavoidable commission of inquiry.


The nudniks are always right. They always know ahead of time – the disengagement, Hamastan, the mosquito plague and the fat content of a hamburger – and come ready with an "I told you so." Sometimes you just want to rebel, to get them to chill out. So if once a year one of the guys who takes out the garbage leaves a little behind, well, it happens, that’s life and we all screw up sometimes. But deep inside we know it won’t help, it will just pull us into an unending round of charges and counter charges. So we cop out and lose to them because we have no strength for this. After all, we hate to be nudniks.


*(Wikipedia defines nudnik as a nagging, boring or awkward person. From Yiddish)


פרסום ראשון: 06.29.07, 06:55
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