Israel is much in the news – its geopolitical dangers and opportunities; alliances and adversaries; accomplishments and shortcomings; the unending challenge of being simultaneously a Jewish and a democratic state; its complex domestic politics and oversized role in America’s; its relationship to Jewish identity; and its connection to resurgent antisemitism throughout the world, including the United States. There are countless serious issues to consider and discuss.
But other essential dimensions of Israel are less evident from afar; aspects that Susie and I have long known and loved, and with which retirement allows us to get reacquainted. As you may know, we own a small apartment in Jerusalem’s Baka neighborhood, where we hope to spend 6-8 weeks each Spring and Fall. When we signed the contract in March 2016, we were told it would be finished by the end of the year, but we failed to ask what year! We finally “received the keys” in late 2017 and were able to begin making it a home.
Across and along the nearby street are colorful greengrocers, charming cafes, and small shops offering meat, fish, bread, cheese, wine, all manner of Israeli comestibles, flowers, giftware, Judaica, and convenience items. There are a lighting store, a framer, laundries and hairdressers, a pharmacy, corner markets, and grocery stores. Nearby are playgrounds and pocket parks; a multiplex theater that’s open even on Shabbat; a plethora of synagogues, including Kol Haneshama, the Reform congregation where we have long worshipped; a long promenade with a spectacular view of the Old City and the Judean desert; and “the Mesilla,” a landscaped walking and bike path laid on the tracks of the former Ottoman Era railway.
Yesterday, we did something seemingly mundane – we took the bus. Using our “RavKav” transit cards, the senior fare was the equivalent of 80 cents. (Our apartment has indoor parking, but we don’t have a car here, an unnecessary expense when public transportation is so reasonable and convenient.) Why “seemingly” mundane? Because the outing’s purpose was to register our new address with the Interior Ministry, as Israeli citizens are required to do.
After millennia of wandering and trauma, the restoration of sovereignty in our ancient and eternal homeland was – and remains – miraculous. There is nothing mundane about the privilege of citizenship in the Jewish State, including the right to vote, as we recently did, or even the minor administrative tasks that citizens must perform.
While many are unhappy with the outcome of the election and some are bitterly disappointed, that is hardly unique to Israel. And to paraphrase Mark Twain, “The rumors of the death of Israeli democracy have been greatly exaggerated.”
Given the wars that Israel has had to wage in self-defense, the ongoing scourge of terrorism, much of it Iran-sponsored, and the protracted Palestinian-Israeli conflict, one would think that Israel’s Jewish and Arab citizens would avoid all contact with each other, if not be at each other’s throats. Not true, especially in Jerusalem. Wherever we go, Israel’s diverse demography is evident. On the street, and in buses, stores, restaurants, malls, workplaces, parks and universities, hospitals and clinics, Arabs and Jews mix and interact freely. Peaceful co-existence is not the exception here; it is the norm.
When all is said and done, “Israel’s situation is complicated.” Life here is sometimes tense, but more often joyful, with ample causes for both concern and celebration. What a gift it is to grapple with the former and to experience the latter!
– Rabbi Block