Exploring the best parts of Tel Aviv, as my wife and I have been doing for the past week, is as much fun for me as it is inspiring. Whether we're wandering along the beach on the way to a festival at the port, scoping the cooler-than-cool bars and cafes along Neve Tzedek and Rothschild, perusing locally-made art at the Nahalat Binyamin street fair, or sizing up the skyscrapers around Kikar Hamedina and the Azrieli Towers, I feel almost ecstatic watching how the the Zionist dream is alive before my eyes.
The Jewish people, with all of our different backgrounds, beliefs and problems, are bringing the Land of Israel to life! True, I feel equally as proud whenever I walk through Jerusalem's amazing old and new neighborhoods, but the modernity of the first Hebrew city is impressive in a much different way.
I had an interesting experience this morning, as a finished sipping a cup of juice I bought after a long and happy hike around the city. I put the empty cup next to me on the bench, intending to throw it away when I got up, but an old man next to me tried to grab it and throw it on the ground. "Leave it for the street workers to throw it away," he said. Now, I'm what's called in Israel a "yeled tov yerushalayim" (roughly translated as a goody-two-shoes), but I had never heard an ideological argument in favor of littering, so I let the man continue with his rant. I got more than I expected.
"These Ethiopians and Russians who clean the streets don't do anything anyway, so let them do a little work,” he ranted.”They're ruining the country. When we were founding the country, we were proud, and we were proud to work hard. When I fought in the Palmach (military unit prior to and during the Independence War), we were dedicated to the ideals of building a Jewish country, and we knew our history and identity. You can't imagine how many friends I lost fighting for Israel. Now, these people are coming and destroying what we sacrificed so much to build."
Usually I'm the first to lecture my friends about pride and gratitude for Israel's accomplishments, but how could I argue with the pain of this octogenarian who had done so much more than I ever could for the state of Israel? I'm still trying to process how a man who gave everything for an ideal is now telling people to throw garbage on it, but I kept silent and listened, trying to understand.
On my web site, www.Janglo.net, and in my weekly mailings to our 40,000+ users, I often talk about the State of Israel in glowing terms, and sometimes I get challenged by people who see only problems here. I would never suggest that there aren't challenges living in the Holy Land. But things break down when people get so swept up in the problems they can't see how great everything else is.
I'm quite certain that if you told Theodor Herzl or David Ben Gurion that in 2011, the state of Israel is a global technology and culture leader with one of the world's strongest economies, not to mention the aliya we've absorbed, the military victories, the great Israeli spirit- they would never believe it. Israel's social and security problems don't define the country or its destination; they are the lessons we are learning as we build the great state we've been envisioning for nearly 2000 years. No one, religious or secular, could have possibly imagined the crazy twists and turns modern Israeli history would take, but more and more are recognizing that miraculously, it is evolving much better than anyone expected. And the process is nowhere near over yet.
For me, walking through Tel Aviv, with its filth alongside its gleaming skyscrapers, is a great lesson in realistic optimism and modern Zionism. If you only look down, it is easy to get stuck on the graffiti and litter, but if you just lift up your head a bit, you can see that what is going on around is far greater.
The author runs www.janglo.net, Israel's largest online community for English speakers.