This past Friday morning, I found myself driving along the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway with music blasting, an ice cold diet coke in my cup holder next to me, sunglasses on and in the comfort zone of my weekend wear, aka jogging pants. As I drove along, tapping my fingers on the steering wheel, I knew that what I was experiencing was an overwhelming feeling of relaxed apathy that only a Friday in Israel could offer. My attitude and calmness began to lend itself to delusional thoughts of, “This drive ain’t so bad!” and, “Why don’t I look for work in the Merkaz (center of the country)?” as well as the biggie, “Maybe I should agree to date that guy from Herzelia?”
But let’s get real people because my Friday morning drive was in no way representative of what really happens when Sunday morning suddenly arrives and everyone is in a mad rush to get to work. My 40 minute stint on what I now considered a peaceful, historical and not-so-bad-highway, come Sunday morning would be nothing more than one big piece of honking, backed up, polluted mess. Sort of like going to see a prospective home with an agent on the weekend, a home that is situated right next door to a school or a factory, revealing to you only a shell of the hell that erupts at a different time of the week.
Now look, I am quite aware of the fact that people in New York commute for two hours to get to work and back every day. I am also aware that there are people who go bungee jumping, sky diving, and who chain smoke. Just because they do it, doesn’t mean I ever could.
I didn’t say never….I said ever
Because at the end of the day, going on that highway for a leisurely Friday morning lunch with a friend, a late night concert, an off hour job interview or an annual doctor’s appointment is not the same thing as trying to navigate that enormous hunk of bumper to bumper mess on a daily basis for work or for the sake of trying to keep up a meaningful and sustainable relationship.
Truthfully, anyone I know who has tried to keep up a relationship while facing the abyss of the Highway 1 separation had to either call it quits or cave in and finally make the move even if it was just to be able to say something insignificant to their significant other without using Skype or Facebook as a communicative medium.
But people do it. My friend’s father has been going to Tel Aviv from Jerusalem for work every day for the past 20 plus years. Mind you, he has a driver….never mind.
Now I know I keep mentioning that the 70 kilometers (give or take a few) is the main thing separating between these two major cities in Israel combined with the investment of time, effort and cost of the commute. But the trek is not the only thing that is keeping people in Jerusalem from coming to Tel Aviv or vice versa. The road itself is a representation of the almost 180 degree about-face you encounter with issues relating to the style, demographics, climate and city culture that each one promotes in an almost unyielding way.
The mayors of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem compete with each other by organizing their never ending slew of parades (gay pride anyone?), marathons, Humus festivals, markets, events and even beach culture (Jerusalem had a fake beach one summer as an event). But I doubt the politicians really need to try so hard to vie for residents loyalty or affection considering that each city is so unique and is divided by oh so much more than just rush hour traffic because like most Tel Avivians or Jerusalemites these cities are part of our souls.
Let’s face it. Tel Avivians are willing to withstand the suffocating heat/humidity just to be able to be part of a pluralistic, bustling city with a fabulous night life, a beach, burgeoning business centers and the freedom to post billboards with women on them, not something to be taken for granted in the Middle east. Whereas Jerusalemites are willing to tolerate those annoying political visits, religious protests, tourists galore, and a bit of Rosh Chodesh hoopla that clogs up the city, not to mention a complete Shabbat city shut down, just to be able to call Jerusalem their home.
It’s all very good and well but for me, my life is all about that 20 minute drive to work, relationships within 25 kilometers of my home, a Jerusalem night life that ensures I will make it home safely and still get a good night’s sleep, and weather that will allow me to go running outdoors almost every single day of the year.
The great Jerusalem-Tel Aviv divide, a highway that represents both distance and lifestyle, makes me, like most Israelis, aware that it’s still not possible to dance at two weddings..
You have to choose.
Jerusalem, I do.
Tel Aviv, my heart is already taken.