That’s right. You heard me. 1000 tables. Round ones.
Picture this: A warm Tel Aviv September night. Motzaei Shabbat (Saturday night). The Tel Aviv Museum plaza is filled with round tables—several hundred of them, in fact. Sitting around the tables, in groups of about eight to 10, are several thousand people. Around the country there are several thousand more, sitting around a total of over 1000 tables. Why have they come here, you ask? To talk. About what? Social Justice. Social Change.
Let’s backtrack a little. In case you haven’t noticed, over the past several months, Israel has seen the blossoming one of the greatest social movements since the beginning of the state. Hundreds have taken to the streets, sleeping in tents in the middle of cities and towns across Israel, protesting the rising cost of housing and living.
Other causes have joined the fight. The price of cottage cheese went up. Millions boycotted. The price went back down. A few weeks ago over 400,000 people rallied across Israel—the largest rally in the history of the State of Israel—to march for social justice.
They protested an economic system in which a small elite controls over 90% of the economy, the largest rich-poor income gap in a “developed” country, a political system which, despite elections and re-elections, is failing to meet the basic needs of its people, the loss of a once-held dream to create a country based on social Zionism, but a hope to redefine that dream and create a new social order. But I digress….
Exactly one week after the largest rally in Israel’s history, we gathered around tables. We gathered to discuss what we each and we all felt needed to be change in Israel, and to work together to affect that change.
I showed up with two of my companions from my Tikkun Olam program—a Californian and a Mexican. We showed up a few minutes late and the event had already begun. (I know! An Israeli event starting on time! Fancy that!)
We entered the plaza in awe, a heard of deer in the headlights. A group of friendly strangers waved us over to their table, insisted we join them, and scooched around to make room. It was then that we made our new friends: A young public school teacher from outside Tel Aviv, a Russian immigrant, a Tai Chi instructor, a psychodrama practitioner, a proud Tel Aviv native born in 1947 and a man from Holon who had been sitting at home for years, never involved in politics, but now sensed that something was beginning to change and the time had come to come out.
We schmoozed, we laughed, we debated, we collaborated, we translated—a group of strangers who suddenly became like a family. Table #188. It was magical. It was unreal. It was challenging. It was uplifting. It was so… Israeli.
The first question: Who are we and what brought us here?
The second question: What two specific things do we think need to be changed in Israeli society?
The third question: What specific initiative(s) could we commit to taking on—on our own or with the help of others—to work to effect that change?
We Americans at first were hesitant to share our thoughts. “We’re new here,” we said. “No, no, no!” they insisted. “We want to hear you! Perhaps we will learn a new perspective.” We spoke of Israel, of America, of education, of racism, of politics, of race politics of diversity, of understanding, of history, of stories. There was a note-taker at our table—and every table—documenting everything and putting it all online.
It was hard to say goodbye. I will miss my new friends, but I know we’re all moving forward to fight the good fight. I left re-energized, re-inspired, humbled, enlightened and ready to take on the world. I came here to Israel to volunteer for a year, not sure exactly where I wanted to work or what I wanted to do—but now I think I have a few good ideas. We’ll see where they take me now….
This weekend perhaps we can all reflect on the questions asked at 1000 tables:
What two specific things do I think need to be changed in my world?
What can I start doing right now to change them?
Elliot Glassenberg is currently participating in Tikkun Olam in Tel Aviv-Jaffa, one of Masa Israel’s 200 programs.