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Saturday, May 22, 2010

A Few More Musings about Israel: extra thoughts which didn't fit into the blog.

One thing I must mention -- when I told people I was going to Israel they just immediately assumed it had something to do with my crazy lust for adventure, high-risk activity and danger.  Only one work colleague said something about a "religious pilgrimage?" but I'm sure that knowing me,  he was being sarcastic.

But, I have to say,  having spent 3 weeks there,  I did not for one moment ever feel unsafe.  Some of this has to do with the luck of coming during relative peacetime, and not during any suicide bombings that I know of.  Perhaps it was the protective effect of the ash cloud over Europe? ;-)  But seriously, in a country where crazy shit is known to happen, I've never seen so many hitchhikers!  Certainly much more common than in the US.  And your typical street crimes, muggings, violence, etc., are very very rare.  We never worried.  Of course the current systems that exist to try to keep the peace and protect public safety grew out of what happened during the Intifadas, and most families know someone who was affected by the random bombings.  Kind of like New Yorkers with 9/11.  Similarly, they just try to go on with life and not let it rule their day to day activities...

I also saw some evidence of Jews and Arabs coexisting peacefully ... Israel's legal population is about 20% Arab.  The best examples of this were in the markets, in food-related enterprises (in keeping with my theories of how cuisine must be involved in achieving world peace and understanding), and at Hadassah Hospital.

Some people may have wondered just how religious Israel is.  These are clearly people who haven't visited the country.  The obvious answer is, "it's as religious as you want it to be".  In general, a majority of the population happens to be nominally Jewish but is nonreligious.  They view the ultrareligious population as a bit of a threat -- as they follow the "be fruitful and multiply" commandment, their percentage of the population grows and the amount of political pandering the different parties must do to the religious population in order to achieve a coalition government with their "swing vote" just gets very very complicated ... For this reason the nonreligious folks are grateful for the huge wave of Russian immigrants which came in 1991 or thereabouts, as they tend to not be religious (in fact not even all of them are Jewish, some are just married to Jewish people and got in that way) and therefore "balance out" the religious community.

The nonreligious population also, in my experience, has some resentment toward the religious population because their young people keep getting one religious deferment after another to avoid being in the military, which is a rite of passage that all other Israelis have to go through, male and female both.  In a way I feel like it's a bummer that this separates those populations at early adulthood and diminishes the respect they might have for one another.  My mother (who likes to make her opinions known ;-) felt strongly that the religious people should serve in the military too, if everyone else has to ...

And of course a quite healthy percentage of tourism to Israel is fueled by Christian church groups who are eager to "walk the path of Jesus" -- literally, in pilgrimages of various sorts.  I came across large church groups of people visiting from Mexico, Germany, and Holland.   None of these people seemed to be fighting off the constant spectre of terrorism interfering with their journeys, at least not right now.

I'd also like to comment on the Israeli economy -- really quite impressive.  Everywhere we went we saw massive construction projects, with seemingly no expense spared.  Leaves the currently shitty American economy/recession/?depression in the dust.  Their secret seems to be a large percentage of personpower being brainy/well-educated/tech-oriented with exciting projects afoot.  Sadly, by necessity, some of this tech enterprise includes security and military defense type systems.  But there's lots of IT and biotech too.  Something for everyone, apparently :)

What were my favorite things?   Hmmmm.  In no particular order:

In Kfar Saba: the grooviness of the mall, and Achlah :)
Nachlat Binyamin crafts market in Tel Aviv on Fridays
The tayelet (promenade) along the Mediterranean in Netanya and the cool sculptures there
Machtesh Ramon
Timna Valley Park
Our amazing tour of Kibbutz Ketura
Snorkelling at the Coral Beach Nature Reserve in Eilat, and the observatory there
All the date palms and the amazing stuff they have done to carve agriculture out of the desert
Jerusalem, which would have been even more beautiful with a healthy dose of sunshine
Hummus Lina in the Old City
Hadassah Hospital and the incredible things they do there
Yad VaShem -- not fun, but really powerful
The beauty of the Galilee, Kibbutz Sasa, Highway 899, and the Hula Valley Nature Reserve
Guy Restaurant in Tiberias
The Baha'i Gardens in Haifa
The old city of Akko
and of course our wonderful hosts!

Actually, that's a lot of favorites for 20 days :)
Definitely a country worth seeing and worth visiting!

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