Gilbert Weinstein

All good

I am old enough to remember when there was no such thing as a graphical interface for any computer. You interacted with punch cards, and if you were lucky, via a command line on a terminal. Unix programmers, who thought of themselves as being very witty, incorporated sometimes humorous quotes as farewell messages from the OS whenever a session ended. I have forgotten all of these messages but one particular quote from US comedienne Lily Tomlin: Man invented language to satisfy his deep need to complain. From a Jewish religious perspective, this statement is blatantly false. The ability to speak is a Divine gift to mankind. Nevertheless, the statement stems from a true observation: much of our interpersonal communications can be categorized under kvetching. I suppose that this very paragraph could be categorized under kvetching.

I landed in Israel, a returning Israeli citizen after three decades abroad, on Thursday before Yom Kippurim. There are many things one could complain about in Israel. However, in contrary fashion to Tomlin’s statement above, I would like to point out some minor but nonetheless important positive things that I have noticed, have happened to me, or that I have done, since I arrived.

  • The price of the four species, which observant Jews are required to acquire prior to the festival of Sukkot, is about a quarter of what it is in Australia. And it’s not just the price. Abroad, you usually have to order your four species set weeks in advance. You have at most one or two designated times to collect your set. If you cannot make it, you had better send someone else. In Israel, you just walk into one of the main thoroughfares and there are rows of merchants.
  • Chol Ha’Moed Sukkot really is a holiday. Chol Ha’Moed designates the intermediate days of the holidays of Pessach and Sukkot. Abroad, it is usually a time to catch up with work. For example, being an academic, it means I don’t have to find someone to sub for my classes. But, I still have to do acrobatics to try and avoid writing which is a prohibition on those days. In Israel, these are mandatory vacation days for almost everyone. Much of the country is out on trips. This year, I used the opportunity to hike a portion of the Israel National Trail from the Dishon Valley to Mount Miron, and to visit the ancient synagogue ruins in Bar’am.
  • The cucumbers smell like cucumbers. And are priced like cucumbers! And not just cucumbers. All the vegetables in Israel are simply fabulous. To all those parents who are still fighting their kids to eat vegetables, here is a piece of advice: move to Israel. They’ll be eating cucumbers for desert.
  • I know Chutznickim (people coming from abroad, Chutz La’Aretz) often complain about the lack of Sunday. Some explanation is in order here. Jews abroad, and particularly observant Jews, cherish their Sunday. It is a day off but without any additional religious restrictions (as on Shabbat), and hence allows for late services, day trips, shopping, etc. Saturday night is a completely different experience in Israel than it is in the diaspora. One has to get ready for the work week, which in Israel is officially 5.5 days long. However many places, e.g. universities, have reduced activities on Friday (no classes), and even for those who do work, e.g. in banks, or shops, etc, it is only half a day, allowing for a more relaxed preparation of Shabbat. Ditto for Holiday eves. Another difference is that Jews in the diaspora have to celebrate any of the three festivals (Yom Tov) for two days, while in Israel, the obligation is to celebrate only one day (with the exception of Rosh Hashana which is celebrated for two days also in Israel). For example, the festival of Sukkot which just recently ended, was celebrated abroad on Thursday/Friday (connecting to Shabbat of course) for two consecutive week. This can be really disruptive for those who work for non-Jewish organizations. I think that giving up Sunday for saner Shabbat/Holiday eves, and one-day Yom Tov, is easily a winning trade off.
  • Some government offices seem to have undergone significant improvement from when I left three decades ago. I actually had an appointment in the Immigration and Absorption Ministry office in Petach Tikvah which was almost kept on time, and the lady that saw me was simply jovial. OK, I still have to go the Interior Ministry office for my ID card, and the Transportation Ministry for my license. Praying for the best.
  • There is real competition between telecommunication companies. The price of say mobile service, or internet service, is much more reasonable than in any developed country.
  • There seems to be a real investment in infrastructure, particularly transportation. New rail lines, the light rail in Jerusalem, new roads, new interchanges, tunnels sprout everywhere. The downside: navigation software is not always up-to-date. The best GPS in Israel is actually my brother-in-law on the phone, talking me though each new intersection and new interchange.
  • The weather is perfect… for now.
  • Holidays fall on the correct season, unlike in the southern hemisphere.
  • I am having my first cup of tea in my Ariel apartment.
About the Author
Gilbert Weinstein is an academic who spent almost three decades abroad. In Fall 2013, he will return to Israel to take a position at Ariel University.