|Jerusalem Light Festival, Damascus Gate .(Photo by: Courtesy)|
My Word: Good times, bad times
By LIAT COLLINS
There is a fun side to Israel that those of us who live here take for granted and those who don’t live here can barely imagine.
‘Lighten up, Liat! Your opinion pieces have become so depressing lately.” Thus
urged a “disappointed” reader. And he has a point. But it’s one thing to try to
be witty and it’s altogether another to write a lighthearted op-ed on the threat
from Tehran; Turkey’s less delightful side; the tragedy of the migrants; the
recollections of past wars; or any other topic I have tackled recently. Very few
writers can sustain biting satire on such subjects. Me? After a few attempts, I
find that any laughter is my own, expressed in gasps of hysteria, mercifully
muffled because my tongue is stuck in my cheek. It’s one of those areas I prefer
to leave for cartoonists whose political caricatures can depict the situation in
a few neat lines and even fewer words.
The former fan who feels I failed
him did get me thinking, however, about the stories I haven’t covered in my
column this month. So, despite the missiles falling in the South (and almost
center of the country) and no reason to feel reassured that any new regime in
either Cairo or Damascus would significantly improve our sense of security, I
nonetheless offer a review of some of Israel’s other burning issues.
of the list: The weather. Yes, it is not the metaphorical heat that has been
getting us down – we’re used to that – it’s the heatwave. In common wisdom, the
weather is one of those things that everybody talks about but nobody does
anything about. Judging by the last two reports of State Comptroller Micha
Lindenstrauss, if he were not retiring next month, he could conceivably put
together a commission of inquiry that would conclude that ultimately it’s the
fault of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Interior Minister Eli Yishai,
with Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz playing a supporting role for failing to
fund research or something. It doesn’t really matter what he writes in his
reports because sadly we all know that even those who read them soon forget
Still, the unusually hot June days have meant that life as we enjoy
it focuses on cool nighttime activities or making the most of having a
Fortunately, Israel does not lack a night life –
and not only in Tel Aviv, the City that Never Sleeps.
June 6 is a date
weighed down in Israeli history as marking the start of both the Six Day and the
First Lebanon wars, 45 and 30 years ago respectively.
This year, I found
myself in a completely different world.
Opera does that for me –
transports me somewhere else. Physically, I was at the foot of Masada, the
desert fortress which is more a national symbol than a tourist site; mentally I
was following the emotional havoc Carmen leaves in her wake wherever Bizet’s
opera is performed.
In order to attend the dress rehearsal of the Israeli
Opera’s Spanish extravaganza, I turned down a press tour of the opening of
Jerusalem’s Light Festival and the start of Hebrew Book Week (not that I’m
It strikes me that this is the side of Israel that those of
us who live here take for granted and those who don’t live here can barely
The opera festival premiere, for instance, was screened live at
different sites around the country for those who either couldn’t get to the
stunning desert location or (more likely) couldn’t afford it. Among the
locations with the free screening was Gan Hashlosha (Sachne) National Park, an
oasis of natural pools in the Beit Shean Valley once voted by Time magazine one of
the 20 off-the-beaten track attractions in the world.
probably the best-known city in the world. Its cultural life, however, is still
a little known secret. This year, the Light Festival outshone the veteran Israel
Festival, whose shows and art performances were taking place the same
Hebrew Book Week is also a sign of spring in the Holy Land. It is
one of the country’s best inventions, living proof that the People of the Book
still have a place in their hearts and homes for the written word. Data
published ahead of the event revealed that on average a book is published in
Israel every 80 minutes (“far outnumbering the incidents of violent crime,” as
one cynic pointed out.) All over the country, open air stalls are set up
offering special deals and the public devours them as much as Americans would
enjoy free apple pie. This year, the celebration of the Hebrew language was
marked with a heated debate (including in the Knesset) about the rights and
royalties of Israeli authors. While the readers feast on the special
three-for-the-price-of-two deals, writers say the discounts leave them
Another hot topic of discussion was the fate of the winnings of
Chess Grandmaster Boris Gelfand. It seemed like the whole country followed the
games Gelfand played against India’s Viswanathan Anand in a dramatic face-off
that determined the final outcome of the World Chess Championship in Moscow on
May 30. Even though he ultimately lost, Gelfand returned home to a deserved
hero’s welcome and an across the board debate over whether it was fair that his
runner’s up prize money be taxed.
The annual Gay Pride Parade in Tel Aviv
raised neither eyebrows nor passionate discourse. Even the posting of a Gay
Pride feature on the IDF’s official website would not have gained much attention
had it not been for the debate about the ethics of staging the photo of two male
soldiers holding hands. (That gays serve in the Israeli army is a given.) The
fate of the illegal migrants certainly produced headlines. The dilemmas and
stories are heartbreaking. Last week witnessed the departure of a planeload of
migrants for South Sudan in “Operation Going Back Home.”
Many of the
refugees noted they were heading for the unknown in the perilously poor, newborn
state – still under threat from its larger Muslim neighbor. I couldn’t help but
think we’ve come a long way since refugees and idealists headed to the nascent
Israel in 1948.
It’s a good job we didn’t wait for peace to miraculously
happen before building the country and being able to enjoy life. We’d still be
This month also saw myriad celebrities visit Israel and leave
The list included Madonna who launched her world tour in Tel
Aviv; US actor David Arquette who came to film an episode of his travel show
and, at age 41, celebrated a belated bar mitzva at the Western Wall; and Google
chairman Eric Schmidt.
Schmidt praised “the start-up nation” as a miracle
and told the prime minister he appreciated that military service of Israeli
citizens gives them a huge advantage in the hi-tech field, making them more
mature, independent and organized.
Also last week, Facebook announced it
was buying the Israeli company Face.com for an estimated sum of between $80
million and $100 million.
At least Israelis are turning the bitter lemons
of the security situation into something far more palatable.
miracles (and the little pleasures) never cease; may the missiles (and the
heatwave) stop soon.
The writer is editor of The International Jerusalem