They put up with so much and are satisfied with so little.
Rather like Americans.
Hello for the final time as a guest blogger. I’ve been chattering about cheap. As in, not merely or always inexpensive. Not merely or always disposable. Not merely vulgar, tacky or tasteless.
Cheap as usually overpriced and rarely worth it materially, culturally or spiritually.
Cheap as foods that sicken and kill and are engineered to keep you feeding.
Cheap as clothing sold and judged by its labels, logos and celebrity endorsements.
Cheap as so much popular culture: vapid, mediocre, formulaic, nasty, in-your-face and not much more, manufactured and promoted at a cost of trillions,
Cheap as so much of what passes for discourse nowadays. Like the culture that begets, aids and abets it: mediocre, formulaic, derivative, nasty, in-your-face, vicious, violent and expensive, leading on to worse.
So what’s an Israeli to do? What’s Israel to do? Today, Israel offers – all that BDS notwithstanding – some of the most brilliant and important advances in the world: in computers, in medicine, in agriculture, in energy, in endless adaptations and improvements of other technologies and products.
We’re not just the “Start-Up Nation.” We’re an App unto the World.
Might Israel produce a material culture, perhaps also a literary and intellectual culture, of similar brilliance? And might that culture be something to go into the world, all that BDS notwithstanding, and be received by people who spend their material, cultural and intellectual lives starving to death in the supermarket?
An odd idea as the world, more and more, begins to shun us.
I don’t know. I’m not an Israeli. But I am a mature woman who senses that Israel could spark, or at least participate in, something of a desperately needed global efflorescence of material, cultural, intellectual and therefore spiritual quality.
I say I’m not an Israeli. It would be silly and perhaps offensive to call myself such. When you make Aliyah well into midlife, you miss all the formative experiences. You never integrate completely, or want to.
But I am a citizen of Israel, a status I take very seriously. I’ll never serve in the IDF. The local dogs and cats speak better Hebrew than I do. I’m in no way conventionally religious. Much of Israeli culture will always be inaccessible to me.
But I know quality when I see it. I know cheap when I see it. And as a citizen, I wonder.
My husband tells me that, not so many decades ago, there was an “Israel cachet” developing in America. It involved far more than all that kitschy Judaica for export. He tells me there was, not so many decades ago, an Israeli couture that the world noticed. A magnificent Israeli section of World Rock music. Israeli crafts, Israeli art, Israeli literature. Israeli . . .
Did it happen? No.
My husband claims that it almost happened. In America, at least, and that’s the place that still matters most. He remembers when Israeli wines no longer justified his quip, “It’s a miracle. They’ve turned wine into water.” He remembers discovering Ofra Haza and Amos Oz. He retains some memories of Israeli couture getting serious play. Israeli crafts and art, the same.
It didn’t happen. And now, for reasons going far beyond the political, I don’t see it happening now.
Shopping in Tel Aviv, poking about the Artists’ Colony in Safed, reading the whatevers, listening and viewing, observing, I discern little save over-hype and over-price. So much is American or European derivative, not to say, knock-off – including so much of Israeli “success” in Hollywood and TV Land. So much is meant for Jewish consumption only. As for Israeli cuisine, this be the gist of a conversation I had recently on the bus with an Israeli fellow:
He asked me how I liked Israeli food. A little twinkle in his eyes indicated he already knew my response.
I said, “It’s boring.”
“We’re simple people,” he answered, eyes now a bit mournful. “Religious people. We eat… chicken. Just chicken and chicken… and chicken… and chicken.”
“Boring,” we agreed together.
And to me, so much of Israeli culture seems to me to be “chicken and chicken . . . and chicken.” There’s only so much you can do with chicken. Or cholent.
Now, I’m not complaining that “Things were better in the Old Country.” They weren’t. They aren’t. But I am wondering:
Could there be, lying about here there and everywhere, more or less unnoticed, the makings of a distinctive Israeli culture, suitable for export? In little clubs and studios, in obscure kitchens and in obscure corners of the worlds of crafts and intellect, in fusion couture and fusion cuisine and fusion philosophy . . .
How to get at it?
And how, in this age of BDS, to take it on the road?
An exportable culture that would be, radically, the antithesis of cheap. And it would, by its very existence, demonstrate that cheap need not be the future of our nations, our species, our planet.
And that there’s more to Israel than rampaging arrogance, all-purpose self-righteousness and, “Gee, we’re the 51st state.”
As a citizen, as a chachama, I would like that very much. It would be good for Israel and, mirabile dictu, good also for America. For politics and policies and military might and the rest of that necessary baggage are not the sum of our existence.
As a citizen, as a chachama, I intend to keep looking. And knitting.
Philip will be back from his literary endeavors, trying to explain Israel to Americans in a new way, on Thursday.
Chag sameach and l’hitraot.