It is strange and eerily beautiful to see the cranes lit up at night, brightening the sky here in the center of Israel. At first glance they are unidentifiable. Quickly the eyes and brain adjust. These are the signs of a country on the move. Building everywhere. High buildings. High prices. Filling a tremendous demand at tremendous cost. Nothing seems too expensive for the Israeli consumer Millions of shekels. Seemingly infinite numbers of buyers. Sellouts Buildings completely sold long before completion. Years before. This is not poor Israel. This is a country on the move, upward, sky high.
Sure there are poor people in Israel. As in every modern country, many have more than many. Central Israel, as well as Jerusalem, exemplify the disparity dramatically. With the enormous signs of construction everywhere Israelis are living in luxury in high rise buildings. Builders are unable to keep up with the demand. Poorer people are performing the services needed to fulfill the needs of the wealthy. This is capitalism. Many Israelis have reached unexpected levels of wealth and success. Hopefully many more will join them.
My diary records the growth and then I witness surprises. Like 10 shekel movies. In a country so wealthy, in cities like Herzliya and Ramat Hasharon, would one expect a 10 shekel movie to bring out hordes, to overfill parking lots and cause huge traffic jams? The answer is yes. Last week there were announcements that all movies in the country would, again, offer one day where all films were 10 shekels, normally 35. On that day we were coming home from Tel Aviv to Herzliya. We thought it would be a good idea to stop at Cinema City and grab a bagel supper at Tal Bagels and catch a movie. Cinema City is huge and there’s always something good to see and the bagels are delicious. At first we could hardly believe that the huge line of traffic was for the movie theater. The entrance lane was backed up for miles! We quickly scrapped that idea and decided, instead, we’d do the same plan at the Shevat Hakochavim Mall, Herzliya’s own. They too have eating options and movies. Then we saw that the mall was also creating massive traffic jams. Massive. Another plan scrapped. Most of these traffic jammers, driving in their nice new cars, on a particularly rainy and nasty day, could have afforded to go to the movies on any other day. That includes us! But a bargain is a bargain after all. No doubt there were not enough seats in the theaters to serve the hordes. Certainly not enough bagels.Life is often a paradox. Suffer in a traffic jam to save some shekels. Sure.
Travel is another paradox here in Israel. It is often reported that Israelis travel more, per capita, than any other people in the world. I believe it. It is a small country and yet it is served by many major airlines. Last week I read that Singapore Air is starting flights to Tel Aviv this winter. Singapore? Are so many Israelis going to Singapore? Yes they are. As a matter of fact, we who love to travel, often leave from here rather than our home in the States. The connections to the world are actually superior and in many instances the jet lag is far easier to cope with; and the visa requirements for Israelis are easier than for Americans. Our New Jersey daughter, planning a trip to St. Petersburg, went through hoops to get a visa. We, on the other hand, went to Moscow recently with no visa at all. Nice. So the jetsetting Israelis are everywhere but they are very sophisticated and wise travelers.They may stay at the best hotels and the first class cabin is always filled aboard the flights, but they manage to find the lowest prices. This is a talent I wish I had.
Eating in restaurants is a favorite activity. Last night we ate in Don Vito with our grandson, celebrating his new tenure in the Israel Air Force. Don Vito, adjacent to the Tel Hashomer Army Base, offers delicious food at high-ish prices. It is always packed. No matter the season or the time, business is good. Reservations are mandatory. People are spending.
I know American Jews have a perception of Israel. Sort of as a poor cousin. Years ago it was warranted. My own memories of life in Israel go back only to the early 70’s. Things were different then. Our Jerusalem building got heat in the cold winters for only a scant few hours a day. Our kids went to school where it was considered ostentatious to wear different clothing every day. As a matter of fact, I was so conscious of not embarrassing my children with American acquisitions that I succeeded in totally humiliating them one Purim. Our two youngest were in gan and excited about wearing their costumes to school that day. I dressed them up in clown pajamas with pillows for bellies and hand fashioned newspaper caps. I took their pictures but they will never forget, even without the pictures. Their Israeli friends were all decked out in very expensive costumes. They were chayalim or doctors or pilots. The only two pathetic creatures in the gan were the two Americans, both very young but both, today middle aged, still remembering that day. Another paradox of course. Tight budgets but lavish costumes? Yes.
So this is quite an amazing place. Yet, some of the remnants of the early days survive. Last week, as my husband worked to remove the sukkah, two neighbors he did not know except for a cursory nod in the building lobby, saw him and immediately dropped what they were doing and came over to help. It is often said that Israelis may be brusque but they will always help when there is a need. This is something that I see all the time. In fact, sometimes we feel like competing siblings but we also feel the love and camaraderie of siblings as well. Really, kol Yisrael chaverim. Sounds trite? It isn’t.
Yes, my diary records, this is a very special place.