It’s very ironic: In the last couple of years I’ve grown completely alienated
from what the State of Israel has come to stand for, but for the first time
since moving here 25 years ago, I find myself beginning to like Israelis as
In this country, at least, the personal is not the
Here, it seems to me, they’re opposites.
Israelis now operate strictly on fear and aggression; look at them cross-eyed
and they think Hitler’s back and they’re ready to drop the big one. Politically,
they’re nuts. A danger to others and themselves.
But though living in
this country in the 21st century feels to me like living in a Fox News
or in Middle America during the McCarthy era, I often find myself in the
of a day thinking: Geez, these people are all right. You can talk to
They’ve changed – for the better.
I know: They haven’t changed, dummy,
it’s you who’ve changed after living here 25 years.
And I agree: That’s a
part of it. For one thing, it seems I’ve finally learned enough Hebrew
halfway hold up my end when people are being funny – which is most of
You miss a lot here when you can’t keep up with the humor; it takes
to be able to understand it. When you enter the circle of spontaneous
humor, it’s a whole new country.
It seems I’ve lost some of my urban
American uptightness with neighbors, clerks and anybody else I haven’t
since childhood. Now I can talk with strangers, which is another part of
best about living here, about Israeli society, that I couldn’t
not long ago. It takes us Yanks a while to loosen up.
BUT BASICALLY, it’s
not me who’s changed. Every few years I see friends I’ve known since I
and they say I seem the same to them, just as I say they seem the same
But I also have family members who’ve been coming to this country since
and they are shocked at the change in the people. They, too, find that
on the whole, have become civilized human beings.
About 10 years ago my
sister Suzie put it perfectly: “Israelis under the age of 40 are sane,”
said. Which means that today, Israelis under 50 are sane. That’s a lot
Sane, meaning they don’t scream all the time like people in this
country used to. They don’t bark at you and make you feel stupid when
you ask a
simple question or venture an innocuous opinion. They don’t act like
everything and you know nothing. They don’t forever seem to be saying
They’re nice. Yes, Israelis have become nice! You go into a restaurant –
nice. You go into an office – they’re nice. A friend of mine, an
came here about the same time I did, was saying how in public she
feels like she’s the aggressive one, while the Israelis are the ones
I get that same feeling sometimes – and I didn’t used to.
Israelis have changed – for the better.
They work hard – and they sure as
hell didn’t when I got here in 1985. (It was only after seeing what
had done to the Israeli work ethic that I became a capitalist.) And
really admire them for becoming, which they weren’t before: charitable.
used to think of themselves strictly as schnorrers, charity was what
Diaspora Jews was supposed to give them. But now, giving money to needy
has become part of daily life – over the phone, to kids going
TV, at the supermarket. You can say it’s because of prosperity, which
here a generation ago, and you can say the state, meanwhile, has become a
regular Scrooge, but still in all, Israelis have become very generous
and that is a major, remarkable change for the better.
the last decade, this country has become a wasteland – but I look around
big new national projects it’s built, and I’m just stunned. I haven’t
that many international airports, but I cannot imagine one as beautiful,
a work of art, as Ben-Gurion.
MOST OF all, I look at the city I live in,
Modi’in. Like the airport, it’s big and modern but also warm and human.
get to know each other. It’s a good society that’s been built here. It’s
place for single people, but if you’ve got kids, it’s a great place to
I read in the paper about the Israeli teenagers who trashed the
hotels in Greece, and I’m completely disgusted – but then I look at my
son, who is as Israeli as they come, and I look at his friends, and I
other side of the young people here. They’re all right, they’re good
And it just kills me what this country is doing to them. I don’t
think IDF soldiers are brutal compared to other soldiers, just the
think if you put just about any other army in the situation the IDF is
soldiers would be more brutal.
Israelis are not violent, brutal people,
but we’ve chosen to be in a situation with the Palestinians – chosen it –
invites such behavior, that compels such a mentality.
And at that point,
the political comes to outweigh the personal – for the soldiers and for
us who send them off.
Israelis are good people who, as a nation, are
doing something terrible. As individuals, we are friendly, funny,
humane, as a nation facing the Palestinian nation, we are a tyrant.
because we’re good individuals, and getting better, that makes what
as a nation to ourselves, and to others, all the more piercing to see.