Monday, December 29, 2008

first impressions of tel aviv by k

i have some trepidation writing about being in israel because i know it is a sensitive subject for many people, for many different reasons. my disclaimer is that i'm just writing my impressions of being here and not trying to make judgments. i have very little to go on...we've stayed almost exclusively in tel aviv until now. i'm writing about what i'm feeling and seeing and it's only that. and tomorrow i may have completely new feelings and impressions. this is just a snapshot.

here are some broad impressions.

i like the food! lots of salads, juice and fresh food...good breakfasts, which as i wrote when we were in munich, is not a strong suit in barcelona. i have to say i'm also a little surprised at how much non-kosher food is served in restaurants here...not pork, but lots of shellfish and cheeseburgers!

tel aviv is much more rundown than i expected. granted, i think we are in one of the more rundown, poorer parts, but when barak drove us around some of the chi chi neighborhoods, many of the buildings' exteriors are falling apart, sidewalks are cracked, lots of trash everywhere. feels a lot like mexico to me, which is what barak always says when we are in mexico, "feels very like tel aviv and israel." i'm sure there are still lots of parts of the city i haven't seen, but this is my impression so far.

this next statement is partly based on israelis i have met over the years, and the few i've come into contact with here. i like secular israelis. there is something direct and present and confident about them. no bullshit. maybe it's the fact that they all have to spend two years in the military. maybe it's the reality of living in the middle east. but i get a strong feeling these are people who are realistic about life and have not been sheltered...quite possibly an impossible task here. i'm looking forward to spending some time with barak's cousins over the next week.

as i walked on the beach yesterday while arel and dorian played in the water (way too cold for me!), i wondered what it must be like to come here as a jew. i'm sure there are as many answers to that question as there are jews, but i'm quite sure i'm not having that experience. i don't feel an ancestral tug, or relief at being in a jewish state. i imagine it must feel different to someone who is jewish. i know israel is also special for many christians and muslims, but i guess being non-religious, i'm not touched on that level. yes, there is history here...amazing history, but that's what it is for me.

and what will it be like for arel and dorian when they're older? israel has a lot of significance for barak...most of it complicated. i have not enjoyed him very much here. he is very tense and snappy. a lot of it is the news from the gaza strip; very upsetting to him. it's upsetting to me too, but in a different way. for barak is it very present in everything and he's angry. i understand, but it's hard to be around that anger because it really has no where to go.

we have pretty much kept the political situation in israel from arel and dorian. i think if they knew in detail what is going on here, they would also both be nervous and upset, and i don't want them to take only that from israel. barak started to explain some of the history to arel today, but i guess we still want to protect them from these tensions and realities. ironic that i like israelis because they are not sheltered and yet i want to shelter my kids. i guess i believe arel and dorian will slowly but surely learn all these facts as they are ready to absorb them. complicated.

we still have lots to see and experience. i'm looking forward to jerusalem, although i imagine it is a tenser and weightier feeling place. i'm afraid dorian is going to hate it because he is not fond of old places...he hates the gothic quarter in barcelona and when we tell him about all the history, his reply is "i couldn't give a crap!" a reactive 7-year-old who will some day appreciate the significance of all these places, but in the moment it can be hard.