Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Israel, Part Three, The Lay of the Land and the Mind
The Heart, the Bubble, and the Periphery
Even though Jerusalem and Tel Aviv are only 45 minutes apart, and people go back and forth all the time, the two cites are also worlds apart. Our itinerary, unintentionally I’m sure, made them seem even farther apart. Our route was a big oval. Ben-Gurion airport — Negev desert — Dead Sea — Jerusalem — Bet She’an — Golan Heights — Haifa — Tel Aviv. We didn’t travel directly from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv or vice versa.
In Israel, they call Tel Aviv “ha bu’a,” the bubble, because in many ways it is a world apart from the rest of the country. It sits alone, self-contained, like Manhattan but without the rivers and bridges and tunnels. It is alive.
Jerusalem is the heart of the world, completely connected, yet unique. It is truly like a heart, with arteries and veins, with chambers beating and squeezing. It forces together, it pushes out. It takes in breath and it exhales spirit. It is a complicated contradiction of people and places and beliefs. It is absolutely beautiful.
In my Hebrew class last night, the teacher asked: if we lived in Israel, which city would we choose to live in: Jerusalem or Tel Aviv? The three of us in class and the teacher all said Tel Aviv. But I realized this morning that wasn’t really a fair choice. It reminded me of hearing on the Israeli news or reading in the newspapers how Israelis who don’t live in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem take umbrage at the term often used for the rest of the country: “Ha-Periferia.” The Perhiphery. Sort of the Israeli version of what we call the “fly-over” states. People who live in Haifa, in particular, are most rightly offended by this. Haifa is a real city, a lovely city. Cleaner and calmer than Tel Aviv. Little of the craziness and pressure of Jerusalem. I should have challenged the teacher to include Haifa in the choice. (Apologies especially to Ran, our tour guide, who lives in Haifa.)
Now it’s time for some tachlis, some substance. I might actually have to start at the beginning of the trip now. But first, ....
One of the thoughts that the leader of our tour asked us to keep in mind as we began our journey is that the opposite of a profound truth can be another profound truth. Nowhere is this truer than in Israel. Pick a side, or embrace the contradictions, or both.