Why can’t we pick up after ourselves?
I drive past Jerusalem’s Sachar Park almost every day on the way to work. In the wake of Independence Day festivities, the park was covered by the waste left behind by thousands of holiday merry makers. Empty bottles, open trash bags, remains of food and makeshift bbq sites covered the park from one end to the other in a blanket of filth and debris.
To our great misfortune, the Sachar Park is not an isolated incident. The Ministry of Environmental Affairs reported that 70 tons of trash was left on the shores of the Kinneret Sea by the 50 thousand Israelis who visited the site during the Passover holidays.
I am all for a good picnic and for taking time to celebrate. Every year that Israel manages to add another digit to our historical tally is reason enough for ‘shehekhyanu.’
Nevertheless, the mountains of trash left behind in our national parks, and strewn across our city playgrounds, abandoned at our historical sites, and scattered along our arroyos suggest that there is a significant gap between the cultural rhetoric about ‘loving the land’ and the responsibility of ‘caring for the land.’
A strong part of the Zionist ethos aspired to return to the land as a prerequisite for reviving the Jewish national soul, for creating a life in a renewed connection between the Land of Israel and the People of Israel. Another competing part of the Zionist ethos aspired to conquer the land and subdue it – to cover the land in ‘a dress of concrete and cement.’ The same ethos that encourages people to leave behind the remains of their holiday picnic to be blown about the streets of Jerusalem with total disregard for the environment, the other residents of the city, and for the city sanitation and parks workers is the ethos that encourages others to destroy the city skyline with massive towers rooted in foundations of personal greed and nurtured in a culture of rampant public corruption.
If we cannot pick up our own garbage after our days of celebration, we will not be able to fulfill the great potential that the State of Israel offers the Jewish people to build a communal life of responsibility and solidarity. If we cannot deal responsibly with the small obligations of picking up after ourselves, how can we deal responsibly with the large obligations that will ensure that our children and grandchildren will also be able to celebrate Israel’s independence?
A country of citizens who pick up after themselves, whose care of the land as behavior outshines their rhetoric about love of the land will have not only cleaner parks and nature reserves, but will have a cleaner public life; one worth celebrating for next Independence Day as an exemplar of a life lived responsibly on both the micro and macro levels.