A few weeks ago, my daughter Likush came bouncing into the car and, with a grin from ear to ear, announced that she is getting married. Although I have considered myself a diehard feminist since I first heard of Germaine Greer in 1970, I must confess to experiencing a wave of joy at the thought of Likush and Cphir declaring their love before their friends and family and formalizing their commitment to each other in the eyes of society and the state. And therein, to quote the bard, lies the rub.
Likush and Cphir come from very similar backgrounds. Both their fathers were born here shortly after the establishment of the state and served in the IDF as paratroopers in the Nahal Brigade. Likush’s dad spent a couple of years on a kibbutz before leaving for the city, and Cphir’s dad ended up growing bananas in Bet Hanania. The two men met Anglo-Saxon women – one Canadian and the other British – whom they eventually married. The women immigrated to Israel where both couples settled down and started families. Likush and Cphir were born here, went to school, completed their army service, and, after doing the traditional backpacking route, began studying at the marine sciences college in Mikhmoret to which they were drawn by their love of the Mediterranean and where they met and fell in love.
When called upon, Cphir put his life on the line for what he believes is his obligation to his comrades and his country. And his country expects him to serve, to pay his taxes, to abide by its laws, and to fulfill all the obligations of any other Israeli citizen. And what of his rights? Pretty much those of any other Israeli except… Cphir cannot marry Likush in their native land. Because despite all the parallels in their stories, there is one divergent element: Likush’s mom, the Canadian (that would be me) who married the former kibbutznik, is Jewish, while Cphir’s mom, the Brit who married the moshavnik, is not. The State of Israel, “the only democracy in the Middle East,” expects Cphir to be ready to die for his country but will not allow him to marry because, according to the Rabbinate, his matriarchal lineage means that Cphir is not a Jew.
The acceptance of the legitimacy of the national aspirations of the Jewish people prior to the establishment of the state and the recognition of Israel’s right to exist as the homeland of the Jewish people rest on the notion that the Jews are indeed a people and that what binds them is not only or even necessarily religion but common customs, origins, history, and language. If that is the case, Cphir, the sabra who researches the waters and loves the soil of this land, is far more its son than I, the North American immigrant who, after 35 years, never developed a taste for the fruit that symbolizes the Israeli national character and still cannot roll a “resh” if her life depended on it.
Ironically, as Likush and Cphir weigh the costs of a trip to Cyprus or Prague and begin to make the arrangements that will turn their declaration of commitment into a sterile bureaucratic procedure rather than a joyous ceremony in the presence of their loved ones, a different story is unfolding within our family. One of our cousins from Montreal is spending a year in Israel. A few months ago, she and her boyfriend, also a Canadian, decided to get married here before they return home. Neither is an Israeli and neither have any plans to settle here, but they and their parents are busy planning a Tel Aviv wedding. And so, while the Canadian tourists are drawing up guest lists and choosing a venue that will hold their many relatives and friends, Likush and Cphir are contacting travel agents to determine which foreign city will be the site of their lonely nuptials.
Beyond the question of “who is a Jew?” lies the greater issue of the relevancy of the question to marital laws in what purports to be a modern, civilized state. In early July, the Knesset rejected a bill proposed by the Meretz faction to legalize civil marriage in Israel. Unlike the bill proposed by Yisrael Beiteinu, which is designed to serve the narrow needs of Avigdor Lieberman’s voters from the CIS republics and other immigrant communities that comprise “problematic” (meaning non-Jewish) couples, passage of the Meretz bill would have ended the state’s institutionalized discrimination on the basis of religion. Nothing short of the option of civil marriage for all citizens of the state will end Israel’s violation of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, which grants men and women of legal age the right to marry “without any limitation due to race, nationality, or religion,” and of its own Declaration of Independence, which promises equal rights “to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race, or sex.”
The continuation of the current discriminatory policy will likely mean that Likush and Cphir’s contacts with the travel agents will eventually end in the purchase of two one-way tickets that will enable them to build their life together and raise their children in a country where human rights are respected. The state will probably not lament the loss of the couple whose union defiles the purity of the chosen people, but I, Likush’s mom, will be grieving over her absence and over the great injustice wrought by the Jews after becoming “masters of their own fate ... in their own sovereign state.”
Susie Becher is a member of the National Executive of The New Movement-Meretz