Just Above Sunset
June 19, 2005 - Israeli Contrasts

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A new column from Our Man in Tel-Aviv - Sylvain Ubersfeld.


13 June 2005


Israel is indeed a land of contrasts, contrasts of colors, of mentalities, contrasts between the very rich and the very poor, the religious and the non-believers, with, in the middle, a class of citizens in pursuit of the American Model - contrast between the "hatable", and the "loveable."


Tel-Aviv is certainly one of these major capitals of the world, which you either love or hate right away at the first sight - the same as Jeddah, Cairo, Bogotá, Moscow, or Mumbai.  Although I have already spent altogether twenty-nine months on this southeastern shore of the Med, I have not managed to determine which of my love or my hatred was the strongest - and I doubt that I ever will.


The town is a weird mix-up of architectural styles ranging from Bauhaus to "classic" hot-country four or five stories concrete blocks running around narrow streets in which car parking can be both a stressful (if you manage to find a parking place) and costly (if you found an illegal spot) experience.  In the center of town state-of-the-art glass and aluminum towers shelter some of the richest companies of the country, when a few yards away, not far from Sancino street, derelict garages provide for the ultimate repairs to 1960 vintage Volkswagen and Peugeot cars.


Tel-Aviv grew too fast.  The number of free parking spaces is about one seventh of the number of registered cars.  Tel-Aviv is chronically short of money and in order to find additional and easy revenue the municipality has invested in a large fleet of specialized vehicles that roam the street of the capital in search of illegally parked vehicles, whose unfortunate owners will need to recover against several hundred shekels.  Although the town is not short of paying parking spots one of the favorite pastimes of the Tel-Avivians is to gamble on how long they will be able to keep their vehicle parked in a red or white spot (illegal) before the municipality will take it away.  The Israeli is a gambler at heart.  I remember times when I flew over from Tel-Aviv to Istanbul on flights packed with Israelis going to the casinos who could not wait even until take-off to play card games. 


Although Israel is a democratic country, the weight of religion is equally imposed upon the believer and the atheist alike.  Indeed, it is the Great Rabbinate who decides when shops or "commerces" can be open - and when they must stay shut - or when public transport will run or stay still.


Ben Gurion airport, the international gateway to Israel is said to be the biggest architectural achievement since the building of the Temple in King Solomon's day.  There travelers can often, and at least once a week, be confronted by lack of food or beverages on certain days as a result of some obscure decisions by the religious authorities banning sale and commerce in respect of ancient laws dating back to biblical times and certainly outdated in a country claiming to be a must in international commerce.


I believe that religion and state affairs should not be mixed; however, in Israel they are.  No government can spare the support of the religious political parties for fear of not being able to last even for a month.  When countries like France have chosen, in 1905, to separate the church from the state affaires, other countries, mostly of Islamic nature, and Israel alike, have maintained a very strong connection between both, with the result that we know today.  In a recent article published on the electronic newspaper of Arouts 7 (a well known media channel) a Rabbi of some kind explained why no woman should take place in any kind of public demonstration against government policy: the reason is simply that it is perceived as being "immodest" due to the traditional position of woman as seen by the Rabbis, even today. (To convince yourself, watch the movie "Kaddosh" by Israeli filmmaker Amos Gitai.)


On Fridays and Saturdays, the equivalent to the western European weekend, the beaches in Tel-Aviv are filled up with families looking for some cool times by the sea.  This is unfortunately when things start getting difficult as the beaches, although long and fairly wide, are far too small for the number of patrons.  In the front line, where the sand is harder, every 50 yards a couple is playing racket-and-ball.  When transiting from one's <I>chaise-longue</I> to the seaside, one must calculate and combine one's progression with the game of these players, for fear of being maimed by a known flying object.  If your attempt is successful, you will reach the water.  The water?  It is clear, but far from being clean.  Are those jellyfish - green, white or even of a tropical light blue?  Nope… only plastic bags floating as the plastic bag invasion is certainly one of the plagues of the century, at least in this country.  The other plagues are, of that order, dogs using the white sandy beaches as receptacle for excrements, burying such nicely so that the innocent foot of the beachgoer will necessarily establish contact with it at one point or the other, and mothers of numerous toddlers who will abandon soiled diapers on the sand, and youngsters who will leave their mark by leaving behind on their departure greasy papers, plastic glasses, bits of smashed fruit, all contributing to the general impression of uncleanliness in a country when traditionally, on Shabbath, observant religious women are required to undertake ritual ablutions. I dared to ask one day to a young female soldier (women undertake two years of military service) why the beaches were so dirty.  The answer came in one second, just like if she had been prepared for that very question: "We have spent so much time defending our country against the rest of the world that we had no time to learn good manners "



Copyright © 2005 – S. Ubersfeld



Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
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