In this week before Purim, we find ourselves perhaps, among the tights and pink tutus in San Francisco….? Maybe we are in Mexico with the Caballeros…
…and with Dia de Los Muertos celebrants?
No, we are in Tel Aviv on the promenade with all the other party go-ers like the astronauts and police officers with kipot. Only in Israel, and only in this very young and arty, big beach city.
Incredible shopping for hip designer fashions (Ayala Ball necklace)…
…stylized, modern and bauhaus architecture…
…and quirky sculpture around every corner. Keep your eyes peeled, high and low!
We stayed near Old Jaffa, the Arab port and flea market, which provided the famous “Dr. Shakshuka” restaurant, shopping, music and great people watching. We needed the many, soothing, chaise lounge “islands” we found in shaded bicycle/pedestrian strips in the City Center. They invite you to grab an expresso and a gelato, and stretch out for a nap…Ahhhhh.
The green public bikes are affordable, available at stops all around the City, and are even electric powered so you don’t have to work too hard. The only drawback is motorcyclists and bikers ride fast on narrow sidewalks among pedestrians, and park on the sidewalks blocking the way. We happily block their way on the sidewalk when we stop to enjoy local musicians jamming with shofars and drums.
We love Tel Aviv’s juxtaposition and richness of diverse cultures; Israel is a very young country, only 67 years old and its population is also young and tech saavy. There are more Start-ups in Israel than in the entire United States. Although the conflicts with the residents of the occupied territories is very real, and the threats to Israelis on public transportation, in malls, and on the street is real (separate attacks by Palestinians on Israeli citizens and soldiers occurred every week we were in Israel, and if you Google “Sderot” a town 1 miles from the Gaza Strip, most of the images are of rocket caches and launches from within the Gaza Strip targeting Israeli civilians in Sderot), yet the Israelis have adopted a fatalistic philosophy, because they say the violence is always possible and there is no way to predict or control it.
Israelis minimize the sense of risk and tell us that always knowing where a bomb shelter is within 40 seconds of a rocket siren, is just built in to their consciousness. We don’t buy it; it is a stressful awareness. Every resident serves for three years in the National Armed Services. Even when they go home for the weekend, they must carry their uzis. Even when they complete service they must return for reserve training. Our airbnb.com host grew up in Sderot, served 10 years in the National Defense and is now in medical school, yet reports weekly for reserve training. The entire country is always prepared to fight for the survival of the State of Israel. So, why be surprised that the drivers are angry and aggressive, the service providers are sullen and have no concept of guest relations/customer service. Israelis laugh at this and say such rudeness is not because we are tourists, that they are treated with disdain by merchants as well because, well, “Israelis are just brusque”. With real estate and services quite expensive, and very low salaries (although not much unemployment), Israelis, Jewish and Arab alike, are stressed. Both communities feel that they cannot personally make a difference. What will be, will be….
Everyone we talked with wants Peace….but feels that war is inevitable. 3 weeks, 3 months, 3 years, it will come. Everyone states the need for a Two State solution. Most people do not believe it will occur in their lifetimes. However, after winning his fifth term, Netanyahu announced an intent to create a two state solution this term! He knows how serious it could be for Israel to lose U.S support.
The biggest challenge for Israel is remaining a Democracy, meaning one person=one vote. The Israeli Arab population is growing faster than the Israeli Jewish population. Making it easy for Jews to make aliyah will not make enough Jewish citizens in the long run. There must be a safe haven for Jews in this anti-Semitic world and as Netanyahu made clear in his address to the U.S. Congress, Israel will survive with, or without U.S. support. We are confident that the tiny State of Israel (the size of New Jersey) will survive as it is the only country that guarantees Jewish immigration. We wonder however, whether a Democratic State of Israel can survive in the years to come as Muslims become numerically the dominant population. Stressful indeed.
When my son visits Israel this coming Winter Break as a Birthright participant, he can wear his patriotic underwear while he engages in his and Israel’s favorite activity, arguing about politics.