By Eva Feld
“When Israel has prostitutes and thieves, we’ll be a state like any other.” What Israel’s first prime Minister, David Ben Gurion, meant by such shocking statement, circa seven decades ago, was the need of the Jewish people to own a piece of land that each and every one of them could call home regardless of background, profession, economic status, or color of the skin.
Little did Ben Gurion suspect that three generations after the foundation of the modern state of Israel, and once reached the “normalization” that he was seeking for his people, he would have to face a new breed of Jews more related to their age than to their nationality, religion, or language.
The Israeli young adults are as millennials as any other of their equals around the world. When off-duty from the military service, the young Sabras are plugged into the internet to connect with their contemporaries all over the globe. They share the same dreams and values and are willing to spend all their earnings if they are given the slightest chance to travel around the world. Their fingers are trained to text at astonishing speed. Dozens of young soldiers can be seen in large groups, with a machine gun hanging around their neck, visiting their country as tourists, most of them also carry a cell phone to stay in touch with their loved ones, and the virtual reality that holds them together as a generation.
On a Sabbath, hundreds of millennials hang out drinking beer and flirting on the wonderful beaches of Tel Aviv. They easily mingle with tourists from everywhere (with fluent English). Besides Ivrit (Hebrew) and English, many speak their ancestor’s language as well. Along the coastline, that reminds the ones in Copacabana (Brazil), it is common to hear a Peruvian flute, Portuguese samba, Puerto Rican salsa, and loud voices in Dutch, German, Rumanian or French.
Beautiful girls in tiny bathing suits parade nonchalantly on the shiny sand by the Mediterranean Sea, while well-built males work out in outdoor gyms. They then gather at numerous restaurants where fresh fish, taboule, babaganoush, falafel, and hummus are served by other young adults. A festive atmosphere reigns all over.
The sacred meaning of the Sabbath that begins with the first star on Friday evening is well kept in the collective consciousness, but the millennials were born in an era of freedom. they serve their country and their God by proudly speaking Hebrew, a language conquered for them by their grandparents, by defending their nation when called for duty, and by working and studying hard in a very competitive society. They comply with their constitutional rights and obligations, but at the same time, they exercise their citizenship with the right to disagree with the status quo, with liberty and self-determination. As do Christian millennials in their own churches, they go to the temple only on special occasions, and pray individually. They also check job opportunities and interesting challenges abroad, as do all millennials everywhere.
David Ben Gurion has accomplished postmortem his goal. Today Israel is a state like any other, except for the perennial menace of its borders. Ben Gurion also foresaw such struggle: “Everybody sees a difficulty in the question of Arabs and Jews. But everybody sees that there is no solution to this question.” So, life under perpetual threat has also acquired a glaze of normality, after all, Gaza is far from the Tel Aviv beaches.
Alternative realities and controversies
Israel faces core disagreements, incongruities, and political storms. Nationalism vs universalism, conservativism vs liberalism, laicity vs religious purity, militarism vs civisms, are only a few of the issues that divide the population. There are also social matters and ethnic differences, not only between Jews, Christians and Muslims, but also internal affairs amidst each of these communities: Sephardim (Jews who come from Spain, Portugal and Africa) vs Ashkenazim (mostly European Jews); Copts vs Catholics vs Orthodox. About 20 per cent of the population is Arab, mostly Palestinians, but also from other nationalities, each one with their own mind-sets.
All signs on the roads of Israel are written in Hebrew, in Arabic and English. In some places, Cyrillic is already added for according to some unofficial figures, Russian speaking people ascend to 20 percent of the population.
Without pluralism, eclecticism, and tolerance, the modern state of Israel could not exist. Sometimes it is hard to understand the contradictions between what one sees on the streets of Jerusalem and some almost factious statements from certain politicians. Hundreds of people gather at the Western Wall to pray and place their petitions among the old stones. Nobody asks them about their nationality or faith. It suffices not to carry arms or any menacing device to approach the wall.
Of course, according to the Jewish tradition, men and women pray separately. So, I found myself surrounded by a dozen Ecuadorian Indians, a whole class of school girls brought to visit the holy place, a bunch of American tourist wearing lots of make-up and big hats, and a great number of Asians. All of us crowded, shoulder to shoulder, seeking to attain a peaceful moment for meditation and prayer, while more crowds were waiting for their turn behind us.
When I was about to leave, a tremor overtook my body and mind at the sight of a Hindu ageless woman dressed in an orange and yellow sari. Her forehead and both her hands were glued to the wall. She was singing and praying and crying in Sanskrit. For me, her mantras, her tears, her devotion represented for an instant the magnitude and universality of spiritual power regardless of race, faith or origin.
The lively Dead Sea
The booming modern state of Israel, offers alongside its millenary sites both historic, religious and cultural, some unique experiences such as the Dead Sea and the deserted land that surrounds it. Many kilometers of heat and clay, a vast uninhabited land, and yet, even this arid and desolated spot on the earth has deep meaning to the Jews. Amidst the nothingness, ancient people built a fortress called Masada. With some research and a lot of imagination, it is possible to reconstruct the hardships and deprivations suffered by its inhabitants and their endurance based on hard work and faith.
In the vestiges of Masada lie the fortitude and resolution of the Jews to survive. The blue sky and Dead Sea are the only recess to the eyes in this desertic scenery. Not so to the heat, for both, sky and water are incandescent.
Everybody is aware of the high density of the Dead Sea. The picture of tourists floating effortlessly on their backs is as common as the ones of tourists holding the inclined Tower of Pisa in Italy. Actually, floating in the Dead Sea involves an inversed effort to go back to a vertical position. The sea feels like a lively mass of water with a determination to keep you floating forever. It so strongly pushes you up to the surface, that people seem as though they were drowning when trying to land on their feet.
Along with the touristic exploitation of The Dead Sea, it is of course a source of salt and potash (an important component of fertilizers). It is impossible not to admire the development of such an arid area: modern and fully equipped hotels and Spas by the sea, a cable car, with capacity for 80 people per trip, to visit Masada, a restaurant and a museum. The latter built to blend in with the mountain. There are drinking fountains everywhere as proof of a highly technological and effective desalinization procedure.
David Ben Gurion served his ideal since 1931 (seventeen years before Israel was declared a nation). Until his death in 1973 at the age of 87, he occupied the most important roles: from Prime Minister (1948/1953), Minister of Defense (1955/1963) to an influential member of the Parliament, his was the voice of wisdom and action. During those fifty-two years of political exposure, Ben Gurion said a great number of memorable phrases.
As small as Israel might be in territory, it is impossible in a week to assess all the cultural, historic, economical, political or touristic aspects, as impossible it is to make justice to the man who is considered the founding father, David Ben Gurion.
Like for the resolution of an equation, I chose the words, places and figures that demonstrate what I saw, heard, and lived. I hope to have achieved my goal. Quod erat demostrandum.