Many of those close to me may sigh as they obligatorily read this, assuming that this is going to be another Uber-esque rant about how insufficient one area of Israel is. But this is not that type of rant.
I recently got back to Israel after spending a week abroad because my friend somehow convinced me to visit Budapest and Prague. I only agreed to this excursion because my friend noted that Theodor Herzl was born in Budapest and I’ve been seeing those chimney cones (*trdelniks) on my Instagram feed for too long to not not want to go to Prague. I was excited about the chimney cones and Herzl’s
hometown, but I was not as happy about leaving Israel.
It’s always difficult to leave Israel, even when I know that I’ll be returning. In part it’s because I feel a bit suffocated when I’m not in Israel. It’s the same feeling I experience when I’m in the states, except this time it was more stifling than suffocating because it was a quick flight and a quick trip and now I’m back in Israel.
When I was going through security in Ben-Gurion, all I could long for was to eat watermelon at the beach while trying not to get hit in the head by a matkot ball. So I suppose what I’m saying is that I missed the beach. And I did miss the beach, because I had to go a week without tanning, which is a major contributor to why I’m studying in Israel in the first place. Really, I was afraid about losing my carefully cultivated tan.
Jk, jk, but seriously. There’s this idea that you come to Israel for the ideology, but stay for the tomatoes. For me, maybe I’ll stay for the tanning. I’d also like to stay because of the ideology—specifically, the treatment of capitalism in Israel.
One of the things that I love about Israel is that there is not an endless supply of everything. Fruits (and Krembo) are primarily seasonal, and when I have a craving it is not a given that I will be able to easily locate the desired salsa or bubble tea. Perhaps this is a side effect of being in the Middle East, but I suspect that this has more to do with capitalism than culture.
The point of Israel is not capitalism. I made this statement during ulpan in response to a declaration one of my teachers made with which I vehemently disagree(d). (Ulpan: the source of creative inspiration that just keeps giving).
Essentially, my teacher claimed that Israel is nearly identical to America in terms of its treatment of capitalism. I of course challenged her on this, refuting the assertion with a mere two decades of experience in dealing with the American capitalist system.
My argument was that the goal in Israel is to live. The state was created as a refuge, in which living is often times a difficult task to accomplish. There is an entire army trying to ensure that civilians can live. In order to live, capitalism is used as a vehicle to secure the goal. But the true goal is still life, built on a purpose much greater than capitalism.
While America was founded on freedoms of and freedoms from, its biggest freedom is within the economy. As a secular state with myths of gold-paved roads, the goal of America quite simply is to make as much money as possible. Wealth is indicative of success. That’s not to say that greed is inherently an American trait, but it does play into the rampant consumerism of the country.
I explained all this in less than eloquent Hebrew, which prompted my teacher to very loudly negate all of what I had said. (At this point, I had to leave the room because I couldn’t tolerate yet another condescending diatribe about what Israel “is.” I didn’t have the koach to explain that in addition to my invaluable interjections of the English for obscure Hebrew words, I am also knowledgeable about the tarbut. But maybe two internships at startups—the living, breathing existence of Israeli innovation and entrepreneurship—doesn’t yet qualify me to have a valid opinion about a “foreign” country).
Something I didn’t bring up in class (that perhaps I should have) was the absence of department stores in Israel. Malls outside of Tel Aviv (and @Gan Ha’ir mall in Rabin Square) usually make me sad. The fashion industry makes me sad (but I’ll save that topic for a later post). There is no one-stop store to satisfy a range of consumer needs. And there is certainly no Nordstrom in Tel Aviv.
Though the proximity to a Nordstrom was a contributing factor in my college search (it wasn’t deciding because New Orleans recently only has The Rack), the lack of a Nordstrom is one of the reasons that I love Israel.
I love that Israel is not trying to conform by standardizing and commercializing everything. While there are a debatably comforting amount of Superpharms and am:pm’s and an Ikea, there are no true department stores. I don’t think a Nordstrom would work in Israel, in part because it would seem too disingenuous. While there are chain retailers, there are just as many single-standing stores, like those lining Allenby, each with a unique character of its own. There are fashion trends, but these trends are not hyped up by luxury department stores that fuel materialism. There’s a reason that there’s no Nordstrom in Tel Aviv.
When Tel Aviv gets a Nordstrom, not only will I probably cry out of joy for some variant of Zionist progress and my new ability to soundly buy clothes in Israel, but I will then also agree with my ulpan teacher that Israel and America are capitalistically on par. Until then, I will continue to adamantly believe that life is the goal of Israel, while Nordstrom is a more American-oriented dream.