Today was Yom Ha’atzmaut. Israeli Independence Day. My country, my home turned 70 today- every day and every year a true miracle. We’ve got our problems and we manage to survive and learn and grow. And should continue to do so.
This morning, not really knowing what to expect (are stores open? are restaurants open? are museums open? are buses running?), I ended up going for a stroll.
Lately, I’ve been learning more about the areas south of my neighborhood. Yesterday I discovered Ariel Sharon Park, which is a former waste site turned into a gorgeous park reminiscent of a rural farm or orchard. Stunning and hard to believe it’s in Tel Aviv.
Today I was walking down Etzel Street, the main street in Hatikvah, when I bumped into a woman I had met earlier when we laughed at a guy screaming on the phone. I asked her what was to the left at the end of the street. She said it was her neighborhood, Ha’argazim. I asked if there were restaurants and such there and she walked with me to show me. On the way, she made some racist comments about Eritreans. I explained I was against expelling refugees, but basically decided to leave the conversation be because I don’t want to lecture people and in Israel, you have to let some things slide. Also, she’s from this neighborhood and it’s a seriously neglected part of town.
We bid each other a chag sameach, a happy holiday, and went our separate ways. One particular quote of hers stood out: “they care more about the Eritreans than they do about the people who live here.”
I thought more and more- what if she’s right? We’ve been so focused on our activism- have we forgotten the people who’ve lived here for 70 years? Who are neglected by the city and the State? And most certainly the wealthy North Tel Aviv “liberals” who never venture down to these neighborhoods?
As I strolled through Ha’argazim, I couldn’t help but agree with her. The houses are shacks. Literally shacks. With piles of trash all around the neighborhood, never cleaned up by the city. In America, it’d be called a shantytown. Somehow they manage to give the houses some charm. And that doesn’t excuse the utter indifference the residents have to face. Any more than their poverty excuses racism.
It was important for me to see where this woman lived. It was somehow poorer, dirtier, and smellier than my own part of town- which has its own special stench. I would never agree with or justify her bigotry- and I also feel I have greater empathy for her now that I know her situation. I feel her anger is misdirected at the refugees, but the anger itself- boy is that justified. These pictures should outrage anyone in Tel Aviv. Likud, Labor- no government has helped these people and it’s a stain on our society’s values. And I want to be a part of fixing it.
Since Israel can sometimes surprise you, I wandered my way into a beautiful park nearby- Begin Park. There, there are two lakes, one of which has water skiing where you are pulled via cable above your head. There is a petting zoo. And it’s just calm and green and wonderful. There are even roosters that crow! And people practicing acrobatics from trees!
This park is what Israel looks like when people care. I hope one day Ha’argazim and all of South Tel Aviv will benefit from such consideration. And I’m excited to try water skiing right by my house! Who knew?!
Eventually, I made my way up North to Kikar Rabin, Rabin Square for the “premier” celebration tonight. I was supposed to meet a friend of a friend. Who knew I was going alone. The friend cancelled part of the plans- fine that happens. Then, he was supposed to come at 9:30. No show. Then, he says he’s coming at 10:30. Already feeling deeply left out- I was alone standing in a see of families (and I have none)- I empowered myself to leave. And good thing I did- I didn’t get a message from the other guy until 10:45 saying he was “on his way”. Would’ve been miserable.
Being in Israel- being anywhere- by yourself is hard. Israel is such a family-oriented society- which is part of why I want to find a partner here. And part of why I love how willing people are to take you in as their own.
So a note to Sabras. One of the great things about being Israeli is our flexibility. When you cancel plans, you figure the other person can figure something else out. That’s often true- but remember that olim, in particular ones who come here alone, we don’t always have a back-up plan. We don’t have friends upon friends to call. So don’t blow us off. Take it seriously when we’re waiting for you. You don’t have to make the plans in the first place and half the time we expect you to cancel anyways- it’s OK. But when it’s a holiday, especially one with family, please don’t leave us hanging alone. It’s inconsiderate at best and mean at worst.
Sick of standing alone, I hopped into a cab and headed to my neighborhood. Tired of the yuppie North Tel Aviv vibe, the utterly boring concert, and the loneliness, I felt my neighborhood would have the answer.
And boy was I right. As soon as I got out, I noticed a store selling Israeli flags. I had never gone in, but they were blasting Mizrachi music, so I popped in. I was wrapped in an Israeli flag.
Without even two words of introduction, we pumped up the music and danced. Me and the three young women. One of whom put bunny ears on me. People walking by smiled and joined in. A confused old lady kept coming in and out, so I gently helped her walk towards her house. We exchanged phone numbers- one of the women, Sivan, lives right down the street from me! And she has a cute guy she’s going to try to set me up with 😉
Once when I was at a Reform Movement event in Israel, a decidedly “liberal” environment, someone laughed when I said I lived by Shuk Hatikvah and grew up in Washington, D.C. He was amused by the “contrast” between living in “amazing” D.C. and (fill in the blank) Hatikvah. People giggled.
My response: “you obviously haven’t spent much time in D.C.” That’s true on many levels- one, because D.C. is a much, much more violent place than my neighborhood. And while it has its pluses, it’s an utterly sterile “networky” work-obsessed city that’s not that fun. I’m happier here than I think I’d ever be in D.C.
So on Israel’s 70th, I have a few thoughts. Refugees and low-income Mizrachim- we can and should care for them both. Not just theoretically or with slogans, but with real kindness and action. Someone’s prejudice shouldn’t preclude us from caring for their well-being. And it might even soften some hearts.
To my fellow progressives, liberals, left-wingers, etc. Walk the fucking walk. Compassion and kindness, which I view as fundamental values of our movement, shouldn’t just be extended to people we agree with. Lehefech, to the contrary, the real test of our values is when they need to be applied to those who disagree with us.
Want to laugh at Shchunat Hatikvah? Think America or Ramat Aviv or your well-kept kibbutz is better than my neighborhood?
Alek! Yeah right! My neighborhood has something your high-tech stock options can’t buy: soul.
My neighborhood sometimes smells like crap, but at least it isn’t full of it.
This Yom Ha’atzmaut, I got the greatest gift of all: I know I live where I belong. May you find your own sense of belonging wherever you call home. Chag sameach 😉