(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Buses paid for by billionaire Arkadi Gaydamak roll into Ganei Yehoshua's Bereshit Park in Tel Aviv Thursday evening, carrying several hundred Sderot residents as part of his efforts to provide them with a temporary respite from Kassam attacks.
As they leave the buses, each family is greeted by a representative of the Israel Experience Ltd., an organization set up by Gaydamak to absorb and process the Sderot "refugees" while they are under his care. And as long as they are under his tarpaulin roof, they have to follow his rules: Watch TV on a huge screen with surround sound, eat gourmet food, dance at a concert, play in a jumping castle, and basically pretend you are on an all-expenses-paid weekend away.
Bereshit Park, a small enclave within the larger Ganei Yehoshua, which is itself a small enclave within the Tel Aviv's greater Yarkon Park, is usually used as an obstacle-course theme park, a bit of rugged outdoorsiness for the Tel Aviv bourgeois who haven't done anything rugged since they left the army, and who hardly leave the city. Now, almost all that ruggedness is gone as Gaydamak has installed a Laundromat tent, two jumping castles, a synagogue, a police station, a hotel-style buffet, and about an acre of plastic garden furniture.
As each family disembarks, they lift their luggage onto a table, where a security guard inspects its contents, just like at the airport, but without the X-ray machine or any need to remove your belt and shoes. No long lines, no pushing, no confusion or frustration. This is very unlike the usual Israel experience, where everything is so rushed, so disorganized, and so impersonal.
In Gaydamak's Israel Experience Ltd., everything is organized, the bureaucracy works and is friendly, and you don't have to worry about a thing.
Three families are assigned to Tent No. 7, just across from the giant projector screen and adjacent to the giraffe-shaped jumping castle. "The families Cohen, Mikhaelov and Vazana, we're waiting to take you to your tent," a young Israel Experience Ltd. member says, guiding the three families to their tent. Journalists are asked to kindly wait outside, as Israel Experience Ltd. staffers explain: "This is their home now; you wouldn't want people intruding on your home, would you?"
I feel it would be so un-Israel Experience Ltd. of me to argue, so I wait outside for the Vazana family, but not before catching the children saying, "There's nothing in these tents."
Indeed, the tents are sparse, with each family getting its own "private space" made up of bunk beds and green foam mattresses. A guard stands outside each tent to monitor who goes in and out. The most common worry for the new residents at this stage is the safety of their belongings. "Don't worry," says the guard, "we have lists, we will remember your faces, we have communications and we are organized. Your belongings and luggage will be all right. Go outside and relax."
Ran Vazana, an insurance broker from Sderot, says he'll stay until Saturday night or Sunday at the latest. He has to get back to his office, which, his wife says, is only meters away from where a Kassam killed Shirel Friedman on Monday.
Vazana told his son Shai, eight, to stay within eye contact. Ran is happy to be here, and is slowly unwinding. He has lived in Sderot all his life and is not overly joyed to be in Bereshit Park, but he needs a break. And so does his wife, Ilanit, who is staying close by their one-year-old, Rotem. "I knew people who weren't afraid of the rockets; now everyone is afraid. I can barely feed Rotem when we hear the Color Red alarm - she's only one and it causes her to panic," she says.
Ganei Yehoshua official Ya'akov Beckerman says he understands why the Jerusalem Municipality said no thanks to Gaydamak's offer to house Sderot residents in Sacher Park. "They're afraid of the political power he's gathering. They already have their eyes on the mayoral race, and they don't want to hand it to him on a silver platter," Beckerman says.
Ganei Yehoshua Director-General Haim Ronen says the refugees can stay here as long as they need to. "If and when the situation in Sderot calms down, they can return. Obviously we won't keep the park open for just a few families, but if more than 50 people want to stay, we'll keep it open," he says.
At 8 p.m., people start heading to the dining area, as Mizrahi singer Pini Hadad and his band start performing. All is good in Bereshit.
Welcome to the Israel experience 2007, Ltd.