Over ten years ago I was asked by the then editor of the AJR Journal to write a monthly column about life in Israel. There was no reference to my political views or any of the many current events which overtake us on a weekly, daily and even hourly basis. Any attempt on my part to keep up with all or any of these in this column would be futile, particularly in view of the fact that the printed format of the AJR Journal requires that copy be submitted well in advance of its publication. Hence I feel somewhat hurt by being accused in a letter to the editor of writing columns that are unduly bland and do not accurately represent ‘the real’ Israel.
It’s true, I write about the more mundane and less controversial events and happenings that I encounter. And I must admit that I live a very pleasant and relatively uneventful life at the heart of one of the must turbulent regions of the world at a particularly chaotic time in its pretty chaotic history.
I apologise in advance if what comes next sounds complacent and anodyne, but that is the nature of bourgeois life anywhere in the world. When I graduated from a rather left-wing university in England some fifty years ago the last thing in the world that I wanted was to join the ranks of those who had undergone what we dismissively called ‘embourgeoisiment,’ and so I emigrated to Israel. But becoming bourgeois, sadly, is generally what tends to happen to anyone who marries and has children. Acquiring property is necessary in order to put a roof over your child’s head, gaining an education is necessary in order to get a job and put food in your child’s mouth, and the process is more or less inevitable.
In the initial stages of our life as a family my husband and I worked and studied, brought up three children and struggled to pay the mortgage and put food on the table. Gradually, however, the economic situation in Israel improved, and so did our own. Today, as a retired couple, we enjoy the benefits of the national health system, private and state pensions and an extensive circle of relatives, friends and acquaintances, most of whom enjoy material circumstances that are more or less like our own. At last night’s sold-out concert of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra we heard Joshua Bell playing Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnole on the Stradivarius violin once owned by the orchestra’s founder, Bronislav Huberman. The entire experience was heavenly.
The Israel I live in is one in which people enjoy a comfortable standard of living, consume cultural events, enjoy an active social life and on the whole are not beset by financial worries. We have almost all lived through wars, have children and grandchildren and are not unaware of what is happening around us. Many of my Sabra contemporaries have served in the army, though I myself have not, and my children and grandchildren have and still do. We tend to avoid discussing politics when we meet as the subject is either too boring and depressing or might arouse tension (not good for our blood pressure). Politicians all over the world, including in Israel, tend not to be models of probity, and it is disingenuous to expect anything else.
I know there are problems in Israel, but I accept my inability to do anything about them. I’m still waiting for someone to show me a country that has no problems. We vote when the elections come round but have stopped going to political demonstrations, which anyway tend to be futile. Those demonstrations in which I participated in my youth achieved either nothing or the opposite of what I desired. The overall situation in Israel and the Middle East is too complex for me to determine what is the best solution. Once I thought that a two-state solution would resolve matters, but today that does not seem to be feasible. In order for that to be a viable solution a great many things would have to change on all sides.
That’s my two-pennies’ worth, for what it’s worth, and I would suggest that anyone seeking a more sensationalist text and rabid opinions should look elsewhere. I feel that by living and writing in Israel I am making my own small contribution to the present and future of the Jewish people. My Israel is a place where life is pleasant and the sunshine is plentiful. That probably explains why my mood is sanguine and my opinions bland.
This article first appeared as ‘Letter from Israel’ in the AJR Journal.