Israel Tel Aviv Jerusalem February 2019
Who does not want to see Jerusalem just once in his life? It is curiosity that brought me here. Would Israel be like what I imagined based on the pictures, TV documentaries and on my protestant Sunday school teachings about the Holy Land?
Diversity on the street.
The first thing that strikes me in Israel is the diversity on the street. Apart from religious differences shown in typical dress codes the physical appearances are so varied. Then I realize Israel is the home of the Jewish. They come from anywhere the diaspora brought them, which is all over the world indeed. 2000 years left its marks on the physical features of the immigrants to the extent that for my untrained eye the differences are greater than the similarities. This land is a sort of microcosmos. The world is (re)-united on a few square kilometers of the heavily disputed land.
Join me to meet a random selection of those living here.
“I left Ethiopia 34 years ago when I was 12. Being here really feels like coming home. Finally, we can be ourselves.” Shula Mola from Jerusalem explains to me over a bowl of red beetroot soup (she has a colorless version). “Our belief is the same thought on Shabbat we are not allowed to do anything but eat and sleep. In the more European stream of my religion, there are more clearly described activities that are actually allowed. They have studied and clarified the texts deeper and came to these conclusions.”
The “other immigrants”
It is not only the repatriation from the diaspora that brings influx. Economic motives also draw towards Israel. Tel Aviv is the 6th most expensive city to live and the salaries for simple work are low but not bad compared to other places. Economic or another motive: to build up a life in a new country is never easy.
Dark and bloodshot eyes from dark faces look at me with suspicion. I pass them on my way to the Central bus station in Tel Aviv just off Levinsky avenue. It is early in the morning. I had not expected these African immigrants we see so much in Western Europe to be present in this country too. Their clothes are very dirty. They live on the street and one of them is still asleep. When I want to take a photo they shout at me and make clear they do not want me here.
“They are from Africa, from Sudan mostly or Yemen” Chaim Vogel explains to me. He is a night guard at the back exit of the central bus station. “People are afraid of this neighborhood, especially at night. They do not like them. However, I feel kindness towards them.”
We are all born on this earth, we are all the same.
“They have nothing where they come from. Here they have just a little bit more. I myself came from Hungary in 1984 and started like them with nothing. I am 73 now and still have to work 10 hours per night. I have 3 sons and 3 daughters who all went into the military. I wished my government would stop making war.”
Uganda and Ukraine
Charles is from Uganda and studied architecture here. He finished the first part of his studies and now works as a cleaner for a hotel together with his friend Valentin, a university student from Kyiv. He tells me it is hard to get the right papers. But it is worth it. He can save and intends to go back and set something up in Uganda. Or maybe the future brings something else. Who knows.
In the upmarket gentrified part of Tel Aviv North, there seems to be a spiffy informal restaurant in every quarter of Bauhaus apartment blocks. Yael is having a quick lunch before the next client. She is a physical therapist specialized in reflexology. Her parents came to Israel from Argentina. Her father was a musical director but had to choose another profession and is now a computer technician. Her mother teaches English. They landed in Be’er Sheeva in the Negev desert.
“My parents loved the magic of the desert, that is why they landed there. I left when I was 20, Be’er Sheeva was nice though I am very happy to be freed from the constant harassment from the Bedouins. For them, a woman is nothing more than a trophy.”
“it all looks great IN TEL AVIV on the
outside but life is hard here”
“It is different when you are in the system. I myself have a steady client base. I have private customers but also work for an IT company, treating employees inhouse, 12 per week. They want them in top shape and are willing to pay.”
She has to leave quickly and when I ask for the bill it becomes clear she has covered my part of the lunch as well. Gender equality in practice.
Russian is widely spoken and often signs in shops in Tel Aviv are in Ivrit, English, and Russian. Language is the carrier of culture. Many came here from former Sovjet republics like Ukraine, Belarus and…Dagestan. Regina has been in Israel for 13 years, her father Jacobos came 10 years later. They lived in Makhachkala, the capital. It is better here is all I understand, they leave the train in Haifa in a hurry. Later I read more about their former home country and I quite understand their opinion. Dagestan is probably the most dangerous and corrupt country of Europe, possibly of the world.
I leave this country with nostalgia and sympathy. For Tel Aviv especially, where life is harshly capitalistic American style and differences in wealth big and some have multiple jobs to get by.
Where the Gaza strip is just a few kilometers away and the tension of possible sudden attacks hangs in the air. Air raid shelters are a common feature in both poor and more affluent neighborhoods.
Railroad stations can be converted to bunkers. And young soldiers with backpacks and guns are present on the street continuously on their way to report for duty or heading home for the weekend.
Where art flourishes, technology is a driving force in commerce and everyday life. Where one tries to get everything out of life before it’s possibly too late.
Tel Aviv, I will miss you.
*Feature image: The Wall in Jerusalem is about the epicenter of this country and some belief in the world. A boy waits for his father, he is not yet allowed into the men’s section. He prepares for his Bar Mitswa reading religious texts.