My insight of the evening, while enjoying Haydn''s Symphony #96, Bartok''s Concerto #2 for piano and orchestra, and Schubert''s Symphony # 9: This isn''t politics.
Zubin Mehta was in control. The Israeli Philharmonic was was in tune and orderly. I did not notice a stray note, protest, or lack of compliance throughout the evening.
Listening to the radio on the way home was as different as it could be. Unruly demonstrations in Iran and Yemen. Foreign Minister Lieberman saying that he would not appoint the ambassador to Great Britain that the Prime Minister had designated. Commentators arguing over the implications of the day''s message from the council of generals that said it would be running Egypt while it reshaped the constitution and scheduled elections. Earlier in the day I read a column written by a nice Jewish boy called Thomas Friedman that scalded the Israeli government--and sentiments widespread in the country--for not getting on the Egyptian bandwagon that ousted the most recent Pharoah.
"The children of Egypt were having their liberation moment and the children of Israel decided to side with Pharaoh – right to the very end. . . I am more worried today about Israel’s future than I have ever been, because I think that at time of great change in this region – and we have just seen the beginnings of it – Israel today has the most out-of-touch, in-bred, unimaginative and cliché-driven cabinet it has ever had."
Friedman''s claim about the most out-of-touch, in-bred, unimaginative and cliché-driven cabinet Israel has ever had reinforces what I have thought for some time that his understanding of Israel does not go deep. It will take a while to test his fashionable prediction of "great change in the region," and to see if what happens really is democratic.
Much different from Friedman was a comment by a friend at our Sabbath lunch, who seemed to be reflecting a prevailing attitude by saying that he he did not expect great things for Egyptians, and was primarily interested in what would be good for us.
Perhaps my enjoyment of a good orchestra comes from its contrast with the politics that I also admire. The image of order against chaos would be too strong. Israel is lively but operates by a certain kind of order and is not chaotic. Iran, Yemen and Egypt are something else, but also not chaotic.
Zubin Mehta does not manage the Philharmonic like any Israeli prime minister has managed the government, and no government has run the country like Mehta performs his concerts. The Jews of Israel and many of those overseas do not behave like those who play for the Philharmonic.
There is an irony is the large incidence of Russian speaking immigrants who play for Israeli orchestras. Music is one of the things that has profited from the movement of more than a million people who came in a small wave during the early 1970s and then a tsunami from the late 1980s. Medicine, the quality of bread, and good conversation have also gained from that migration. Along with those benefits is the political messiness contributed by Avigdor Lieberman and his Russian-accented political party.
Earlier in the day we enjoyed lunch at the home of Pastor Kangkeun Lee, PhD. The PhD after his name reflects some of my work as his academic advisor, as does the PhD after the name of Young-Chol Choe, who was visiting Israel on one of his frequent research trips. The two little Lees joined us when they came home from school. Their Hebrew was as good as anyone''s at the table with the possible exception of Varda.
Among the topics was a delegation of Korean educators that came to Israel in order to probe the creativity that they want to add to Korean education.
Israeli schools are loud and disorderly. Choe noted that when his children returned to Korea after several years in Israel they had trouble getting used to a culture where children are expected to listen and learn, but not ask questions.
If there is a key to Jewish creativity, it may lie somewhere in the messiness of Israeli politics and classrooms. Closely related is the messiness of Judaism, which is evident to anyone who has tried to find the order in an Orthodox shul where participants pray at their own pace with an occasional indication by the day''s leader of where they should be; arguments that appear on every page of the Talmud; Biblical prophets who were unrestrained in their criticism of political and economic elites; and the epigram that the Lord prefers that his people argue, in order to increase the likelihood that they reach the decisions He favors.
The IDF is disciplined, but an army that prizes improvisation does not operate with the harmony of an orchestra.
The image of a Swiss watch used to be useful for something that worked as expected. The metaphor is less appropriate when the Swiss along with every other producer make electronic timepieces that depend on button size batteries rather than springs and wheels. However, a Swiss watch remains as a symbol of something that does not operate like Israel or any other democracy, or dictatorships with imperfect administration, which they all have.
Alongside Israeli politics and schoolrooms that may be less orderly than the average are good orchestras and first class conductors. Bartok was closer to the nature of Israel than Haydn or Schubert. But the pianist and orchestra neither protested the conductor''s leadership, nor deviated from what was expected.
Their discipline would not be suitable to running a country beset with difficult problems, a culture that prizes dispute about how to proceed, and severe criticism about the path chosen.