Friday, December 28, 2012
Life on the Streets
Every time I travel to Israel, I get the inevitable question from friends and acquaintances back home: "Is it safe?"
Sometimes, when the one posing this query knows that I am bringing my children, there is even a whiff of judgment in these words, implying: "How could you take your kids into a war zone?"
My first response is, therefore, often a bit defensive. But when I reflect on what lies behind the question, I can be more empathetic--because the one asking it really has no idea what life is like here. And so I answer: "If all that you knew about Boise (or fill in the blank with your own home town, any city or outpost almost anywhere) was what you heard in the first ten minutes of the local news, you'd think it was a terrifying den of meth labs, arson, gang violence, bar fights and domestic abuse."
In other words, the media distorts the reality.
This is not what some see as a right (or left) wing plot with an ideological agenda. It's just the media playing to our lesser angels, the part of ourselves that will sit glued to the screen all day to follow the (usually erroneous) details of the latest school shooting. If it bleeds, it leads.
So here's the thing: Israel does sit in a dangerous neighborhood. Israelis do live knowing that they and their children will serve in the army, and there is a good chance that they will be called up to fight in the next war.
But daily life here is safe. Very safe. Safer, I think, than most places in the United States.
Israeli life is not all about war and terror and negotiations and elections determining the fate of the Middle East. It is, instead, about the struggle to earn a living, to raise families. It's about going to school and to work and out to restaurants and clubs, about dancing and the beach and driving (oh, there I go with the driving again) in aggressive traffic, and talking too many minutes on the cell phone.
And it's about friendship and family.
And celebration and joy and art.
In other words, daily life in Israel is deeply human and ordinary, with all of the ordinary joys and sadnesses, failings and success.
I spent most of yesterday walking around Tel Aviv with my children and my niece and nephew. We saw all of this stuff: kids on playgrounds, masses of people shoving their way into Dr. Shakshuka, a wonderful Yaffo restaurant with North African Jewish food (so much better than our stereotypical bland starch-laden Ashkenazi fair), Breslover hasidim (the hippy hasids) proselytizing through ecstatic dancing and chanting, and some spectacular street art.
I've posted a few pictures below. This is life in Israel. Sometimes frustrating, sometimes wonderfully satisfying. Chaotic, celebratory and, for me, often crazy-making at the same time.
Jewish life in a Jewish state.
Where, to my constant amazement still, after so many visits here, when you leave the supermarket on Friday afternoon, the gruff checkout clerk wishes you, "Shabbat shalom."