Ianai Silberstein
Ianai Silberstein

Medina Ktana: A country in a small scale

This country, Israel, is the land of the young and the shelter of the elderly. Middle-aged working people support both.

The concept “old-people’s home” does not apply to the premises where I’ll be staying for a month, visiting my mother, sister, family and friends; in Hebrew, it’s called “defended housing”. It consists of quite a few condos surrounded by gardens and open skies, while linked by paths and an underground alley which is protective during the short, intense winter. The institution (a private enterprise, not welfare) is supported by the fees its tennats/owners pay, while all services, from laundry to food, have to be paid apart. However, the institution offers a wide range of activities: workshops, lectures, and alike. It is designed for active old people. It presumes they’ll be moving around and using the facilities until their last breath. It’s not quite so, but they try.

There’s almost no young staff: it’s mostly middle aged, or semi-retired. “Old ladies” who sit behind a counter or in an office coping with the demands of this kind of “customers”. At the same time, the population inside the institution is very eclectic: first, the tennants, mostly ashkenazi looking Jews in a good position who can afford a place like this. Then, “the help”: an army of philipinos who care, under a private arrangement, for one patient. You’ll find them in the garden, sitting by their patient, looking at the cellphone, or talking with someone at home. During their free hours they gather at the gate, chattering as exilees do. Some live in the premises, some share a flat in the area, as much as ten to one flat. Finally, you have services: Arabs do the cleaning, gardening, while Jews do maintanance; new types of foregneirs abund in a country that is seriously lacking in work force. high-tech being the tendency, the target to aim at.

“Diur Mugan”, protective housing, is  a good term to define the place: people living there are in fact protected. At the same time, they’re left basically to their own means. They need a familiy behind them to support them, provide, solve issues, and see that everything is functioning. For a country which at its birth and during almost thirty years prided on its socialism, although this a very good standard of living (for the basically healthy), it’s based solely on what money can buy. It can’t buy you love, yeah, but it can buy you confort, entertainment, and intelectual challenge.

The place is also a Petrie-dish for Israeli society. The ethnicity, the varieties of spoken Hebrew, the sabra-type rudeness the bureaucracy, the readiness to forbid, the always delayed willingness to solve a problem, the classic greetings of “boker tov”, “erev tov”, “shabat shalom”, they’re all part of the larger israelí society. One thing that can be said of this experience is that, in opposition to the larger society, this is indeed a melting pot. There’s no other option: either you mix or you die alone. It’s a final destination for some marvelous, inspiring, heroic, pathos-filled life stories: from the Holocaust on, through the War of Independence, from the time of the Ishuv to this time of a sovereign State, this is as Israeli as it can get.

Love it or leave it. This is us Jews living together in the “public square”. Loud, noisy, rude but then compassionate, complicated but without malice (one should hope so). This is the exile brought into the Levant, a transition we sometimes still miss. It’s being a learning experience.

About the Author
Sixty-two, married, a son and a daughter. Very closely related to Israel, residing in Uruguay. Retired. Lay leader for the Masorti congregation in Montevideo. Served as President of the Board. Vice President of the Board of the Jewish school. Twenty years involvement in community affairs. Attended the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem seven times for their CLP programs. Writer & lecturer.
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