A tale of two countries: Contemplating a Holland solution on our Independence Day

The cheese is better.

So are the trains.

Today, as we celebrate the 71st birthday of Israel there are signs everywhere that we’ve come a long way. We’re not a country of poor farmers anymore.

We have office towers and advanced medical care and now even a train from the airport to Jerusalem (although it is still having teething problems and the train we wanted to board at Ben Gurion on our way back from a short vacation in The Netherlands was abruptly canceled). Surveys show our people are overall happy and satisfied.

The Netherlands. It has a surprising number of things in common with our little country. It is also surrounded by larger nations that (at least once) had the potential to threaten it militarily. It has almost the same population density, and has its own beautiful coastline. And, today, both nations now have a substantial Muslim minority.

But you only have to look at the sidewalks of Jerusalem to start to see the differences. I was brought up to think that sidewalks were for people to walk on. But here in Jerusalem people seem to think they’re for parking cars. Even though Amsterdam and Rotterdam are just as dense as our cities you don’t see people doing that there. It’s just not the Dutch way. The Dutch are organized. The streets of Amsterdam have separate lanes for pedestrians, for bicycles, for cars and for trams. Freed of having to fight for space with aggressive automobile drivers, the bicyclists wait calmly for their own green lights at intersections. It feels positively calm compared to our cities.

Now I wouldn’t trade Holland for Israel for a moment. I love living around other Jews and the sense of belonging we have here amid the incredible diversity that is the mashup of European and Middle Eastern culture that cannot be found anywhere else.I feel so privileged to be able to bring up my daughter in a place where I don’t have to send her to Hebrew school so she will learn about our language and culture.

But we could learn something from the Dutch. It really can be better than this. Jerusalem — and especially Tel Aviv — deserve real Metro systems and not just a single overburdened light rail line along with buses forced to crawl along amid the cars. The result would be a more sane pace of life. Less cars. Less cars hurting our ears by honking their horns or frustrating our progress by blocking the sidewalks.

The Dutch example shows us it can be done. We can turn back from this madness of trying to turn our little country into a kind of Los Angeles where people think they can drive and park anywhere. The worship of the automobile is strangling us.

And it’s only going to become more important. Right now we have a population density similar to Holland’s, but that won’t last. We’re growing, while European countries like Holland really aren’t. We have to find place for more people.

On this Independence Day I pray we will join together to make our tiny, intense, little nation a little saner and more livable for the generations to come. The car culture cannot get us there.

(All photos by Alan Abrams.)

About the Author
Alan Abrams is a spiritual care educator who make Aliyah in 2014. He and his wife live in Jerusalem with their “sabra” daughter Berniki. Alan is the founder of HavLi, a spiritual care education and research center associated with the Schwartz Center for Health and Spirituality. A rabbi, Alan is scheduled to receive a PhD in May 2019 from NYU for his dissertation on the theology of pastoral care. He was a business journalist in his first career.
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