A Spring Visit to Israel

The Hour

By Leonard Fein

Published May 04, 2011, issue of May 13, 2011.
  • Print
  • Share Share

A journalist friend tells me I am wrong to talk of “a Tel Aviv bubble,” a common expression that refers to the quite distinctive café society of Israel’s megalopolis and also implies, dismissively, that Tel Aviv separates itself from the Israeli hinterland, is more open, more casual, sexier, more — well, more Mediterranean. But my friend observes, correctly, I believe, that with regard to “the situation” — that is, of course, the festering conflict — all Israel’s a bubble. The news broadcasts and the television talk shows deal with the big questions incessantly, but in daily life and conversation, except for some startling event — say the murder of a family in Itamar — there is simply no indication that people feel they are living on a knife’s edge. None. Such indifference to reality may be thought adaptive; it may also be thought escapist.

I ask two brothers, relatives, what is to be done. One says the only answer is hasbarah. Hasbarah is a difficult word to translate. Technically, it means “explanation,” but in the Israeli context, it means something like a propaganda campaign. I ask him what in the world he wants to explain, what new alibis and excuses there are for the government’s obduracy, why he supposes that a world long since grown weary of Israel’s self-justifications will be swayed by Israel’s successes in high tech, in scientific research, in economic growth. His brother offers a somewhat more sophisticated analysis. He is a man of the moderate right, and he has much to say — some good, some not good at all — about Prime Minister Netanyahu. But soon enough he gets to the standard cop-out: There’s no one to talk to, no partner for peace. “They” are “primitive,” they have a “different mentality.”

That is a view I have heard from a disconcertingly large number of people. My standard response is that if the current situation is intolerable and there really is no partner, then you have to ask whether there is anything you can do to encourage your adversary to partner-like behavior. But every time I say it, I remember that my premise is that they, too, see the current situation as intolerable. And the blunt truth is that Israelis don’t. Indeed, a Gallup poll ranks Israel as the seventh “happiest” country of the 124 it surveyed, right up there with Denmark, Sweden, Canada, Australia, Venezuela, Finland and New Zealand.

I ask an old friend, a Christian Arab educator in Nazareth, what is to be done. Her answer: The story of how she successfully organized a group of women in an Arab village to demand that one road in the village be paved. “Incrementalism,” some might say — but not those women. For them, it is huge.

I have tried to stay away from big issues — just to collect stories, vignettes, stray observations from this visit to Israel — and I have not exactly kept that promise. So here is my belated effort. Everyone knows that in Israel, it does not rain after Pesach, right? Wrong: Last night, an unprecedented lightning storm over the Mediterranean, the night sky lit for well over an hour — and soon thereafter, thunder and torrential rains. Earlier in the week, at an open-air concert in the Jezreel Valley, the temperature hovered around 40 degrees. People came wearing parkas. All week long, drizzles and downpours.

But today, spring. In a couple of hours, the sun will be swallowed by the Mediterranean. And tomorrow, Jerusalem. I am happy; go figure.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • British Jews are having their 'Open Hillel' moment. Do you think Israel advocacy on campus runs the risk of excluding some Jewish students?
  • "What I didn’t realize before my trip was that I would leave Uganda with a powerful mandate on my shoulders — almost as if I had personally left Egypt."
  • Is it better to have a young, fresh rabbi, or a rabbi who stays with the same congregation for a long time? What do you think?
  • Why does the leader of Israel's social protest movement now work in a beauty parlor instead of the Knesset?
  • What's it like to be Chagall's granddaughter?
  • Is pot kosher for Passover. The rabbis say no, especially for Ashkenazi Jews. And it doesn't matter if its the unofficial Pot Day of April 20.
  • A Ukrainian rabbi says he thinks the leaflets ordering Jews in restive Donetsk to 'register' were a hoax. But the disturbing story still won't die.
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.