Tales from the edge: This we know

It seems to me that we’re not sharing all we know. Oh yes, we share our stuff. Opinions with everyone (and anyone), startups to the highest bidder, falafel shops in every corner of the globe, hoards of post-army kids on humus trails in India and South America, little bits of technology that sits in all kinds of places you’d never think of (suck it up BDS), Jewish thought, philosophy, literature, and mounds of other wonderful stuff. But our secret weapon, I’ve realized, is one we don’t think about.

Israelis have a marvellous capacity to be friends with people with whom they agree on almost absolutely nothing. It might seem small, a mere trifle. A default setting in a country where no one agrees with anyone. But it’s huge, and no one else is doing it. And if we could only patent it we’d have another successful “exit” on our hands tomorrow.

Ellen’s dragged over the coals for being friends with Bush. Over at Huff Post, journalist Hannah Selinger is cutting her kids off from their grandparents because they’re too racist. Trumps insults, and gets insulted. Friends unfriend over the Trump divide. Britain torn down the middle by Brexit. No one’s talking to anyone who’s not talking to them. No language out-of-bounds for the other, no insult too low, no judgment too harsh.

I’ve pondered it a while. It’s not that we agree either. Our political mess, third elections on the way. Yet there’s a dichotomy, between Israelis with zero patience for anyone, and (yes it’s a generalization), a high tolerance for everyone. I see it in action. I watched a queue abroad last year. People stand for hours good naturedly in said queue, and turn into a killing squad when someone pushes in. In Israel no one stands in a queue, everyone bitches, and then by some weird consensus let some idiot push to the front with a lame sob story. Israelis are suckers for each other.

And then, my daughter sent me a video from Harvard University about the claims of community. It’s about how we find our identity, make our choices, decide our priorities. On one hand, libertarianism means our idea of right, and the things we’re obliged to, are decided only by us. At the other end, communitarianism acknowledges that our sense of justice, our choices and priorities, are influenced by our country, our culture, our tribe, our community, our family.

And that’s it. The penny drops. Here in this little blue and white state communitarianism rules. It’s not that we can’t take a libertarian stance. I mean of course I’m right, right? Left insults right, right insults left. We divide and judge, and carve up each other in endless ways that would bewilder anyone on the outside looking in.

But this is the Middle East, a boiling pot of hamsins and tribes and deals that can spill over any day into madness. And here morality is relative, I’m both sorry and happy to say. The communitarianism that drives us crazy, especially those of us who are minorities, or don’t speak the language of contacts, and protectzia, and stacked up favors, might also be our saving grace. Here there is no place on the fence and we’re all assigned a wristband. The family, the hamoula, the hood, the kibbutz, the country, the land, the religion. The one fan we’re all standing in front of if (when?) it hits.

And it’s making me optimistic in this New Year. In that uniquely weird Israeli way that puts us right up there among the happiest nations. The national game of Twister where we bend over and around each other to fit in the tiny floor space. The politics that divide us until the pot boils over. The people we’re friends with and like, though they don’t act like us, think like us, speak like us, or vote like us. A country with no patience. Getting down with the tribe.

About the Author
Rayne Wiselman is a writer living in a kibbutz in the Galilee. Never quite sure how she ended up here, she mostly loves and never tires of living in this marvelous messy country.
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