Israel: Two Weeks In The Real World, Conclusion

An interesting Tel Aviv building

Tel Aviv is a seacoast city with beautiful views of the Mediterranean, but the architecture is mostly ugly. It has the greatest concentration of Bauhaus buildings of any city in the world. Tom Wolfe, in his book Bauhaus To Our House, describes that school of architecture as influenced by the leftist concept of modeling buildings on “workers’ flats for the proletariat.” Any kind of ornamentation is considered bourgeois, according to this theory, and thus to be avoided. Everything must be “functional.”

It made me think of Orwell’s 1984, where Winston Smith wonders into the “prole” neighborhood and comes upon a junk shop where he marvels at the beauty of the old, “useless” objects of art not permitted to party members.

Which brings me to David Ben Gurion’s house in Tel Aviv. It is little more than a two story concrete box. The furnishings are spare and utilitarian, the chairs and beds uncomfortable looking. The only relatively pleasing room is the library containing his many books. Rows of books are inherently attractive.

Israelis are proud that their first prime minister and founding father lived like a “common man.” But why not a little ornamentation and a few aesthetically pleasing objects of art? Why is the choice between living in a palace and living in a dreary two story hut? Perhaps it stems from what Isaac Bashevis Singer once referred to in a different context as the “socialism mishegoss.”

David Ben-Gurion's library

Speaking of socialism, I must say a word about my fellow tourmates. Except for one couple from Brazil, they were all American Jews. And surprise, surprise: They were Democrats, except for one feisty, retired school administrator from New York who spoke fluent Hebrew. The Democrats were ambivalent towards Israeli policy, and at one point a professor of Jewish Studies at Lafayette College asserted that we need to preserve “Jewish values,” which, clearly, he equated with the agenda of the Democratic Party, that is: multiculturalism, moral equivalence, and pacifism. When, I wondered, did pacifism and moral equivalence become Jewish values? Turning the other cheek is a Christian idea which, if history tells us anything, has been more honored in the breach than the observance.

My fellow right wing tourmate calls these folks “self-loathing Jews.” (I prefer to call them adherents to the Democratic Party with holidays.) She had lived in Israel for a number of years and been married to an Israeli. We met her daughter who, before moving to Israel, was an assistant district attorney in New York City. Her move was motivated by feelings of alienation from the reflexively liberal American Jews she encountered in college and law school, feelings with which I can readily identify.

As is my habit nowadays when I visit countries with socialized medicine, I asked our guide if Israelis were generally satisfied with their medical care. The answer was no. It’s pretty much the same wherever I go: It’s fine as long as your doctor does not think you might have something serious and orders a diagnostic procedure like an MRI. Unless you are exhibiting a death rattle, you can expect to wait months for a diagnosis and treatment. So as long as you don’t get sick, it is fine.

Finally, there is the question of Israel’s “dependence” on America. Our guide noted that two-thirds of the $3 billion dollars Israel receives in aid from America must be spent in America, something I imagine most American are unaware of. You can, if you wish, think of it as a “stimulus package.”

But more importantly, there is hardly a nation on earth that has not depended on the United States. American taxpayers saved Europe and Asia in two bloody and expensive world wars and continue to subsidize these countries by picking up the tab for their defense as well as buying their products (Americans have more disposable income than their overtaxed counterparts around the world.).

The difference between Israel and the rest of the world is this: Not one American soldier has ever shed blood defending Israel’s people and sovereignty, which is a lot more than you can say for Europe, Asia, and the Arab countries.

Even though Israel deeply moved me, I realize, in the end, that I am an American. I am too old to learn Hebrew and besides I like living where I live. I like the seasons and most of the architecture where I live; I couldn’t live in Florida or California either.

But it would be almost perfect if American Jews were more like Israelis.

Tel Aviv Beach at sunset

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  • Maya Fitz  On February 2, 2012 at 4:24 pm

    Other than the archeticure, did you love Tel-Aviv?

  • Ron  On February 2, 2012 at 5:25 pm

    I loved the beach, the boardwalk, the restaurants and, most of all, the people.

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