Published in The Jerusalem Post on December 14, 1997
Imagine a Sunday morning without breathless news bulletins about the ‘clash’ scheduled to take place later that day in a ‘critical’ cabinet meeting. Imagine a lazy brunch without Shelly Yehimovitch’s ideological harping in the background. Imagine a day when everybody in this country leaves everybody else alone.
Yes, psychological relief from the intense, in-your-face, confrontational, ideologically-driven world we Israelis live in is possible – but you’ve got to go abroad to get it. Life in New York, London or Tokyo can be pretty fast-paced too, but it’s hard to emulate the constant, unrelenting ‘kasach’ of Israeli society. We’re constantly at each other’s throats.
The palpable tension whacks you across the face the second you return from a trip abroad, as I just have. Everything here is political or doctrinaire. From schooling to vacations to which * hechsher * you trust and what radio station you listen to. Wouldn’t it be nice to leisurely rake the leaves, without once having to discuss Bibi and Barak with the neighbor across the fence who’s unhurriedly trimming his hedge?
Space, physical space has something to do with the problem. We don’t have enough of it. We’re literally on top of one another. Heaven forbid developers and city planners from allocating more than two inches of park space per 1000 families or more than three meters between apartment buildings. Even the big American superstores that have come to Israel undergo a transformation. Their aisles are half the width of the mother stores in the US.
Roads always are jammed here too, and no-one abides by the three-second keep-your-distance rule. By contrast, take a drive down Canada’s busiest 16-lane artery — Highway 401 in Toronto. Even at rush hour, when traffic crawls, no-one tailgates.
Psychological space is the deeper difficulty. We relentlessly intrude on each other’s lives. There’s no refuge of calm from the cauldron of ideological conflict. Some people don’t have enough room on their cars for all the political bumper stickers they need in order to shove their pet perspective or multiple perspectives up your nose. We’re not content to * believe * in things. Israelis are compelled to project their beliefs into every last corner of the public space. And if you don’t like my way of life, there’s always recourse to the Supreme Court so that it will tell me on your behalf what my value system ought to, and must, be.
Perhaps we don’t know how to relax or to step back from the great national skirmishing because, in this society, there’s little time to do so. We need to slow down the pace of society by creating more enforced leisure time. I suggest an attempt to tame the Israeli temperament by introducing civic, secular holidays like Thanksgiving, Washington or Golda’s Birthday, Victoria or Ben-Gurion Day — one each month. Soon thereafter, Sunday’s-off should be instituted, along with afternoon football, Walt Disney at 6 p.m., and an obligatory evening bar-be-que. No news media would be allowed to publish or broadcast on this holy day of tranquility. The vegging-out or peace of mind would be therapeutic.
Love your neighbor by giving him space is in fact a Jewish value. The Jerusalem Talmud tells of worshippers coming to the Temple, who kept a distance from one another when bowing before G-d, so that one could not overhear another’s pleadings before Heaven. Rashi teaches that the gentile prophet Bilam was referring to the fact that Israelite tents were arrayed such that none peered into the next — when Bilam exclaimed: “How goodly are your tents O Israel’. And one of G-d’s names is * makom * – space or place. “It is not man who honors the * makom *; rather * makom * honors man, says the Midrash Mechilta. Either way you interpret this aphorism, space means dignity.
As a people, we’ve got to stop breathing down each other’s necks and chill out. Since tolerance doesn’t grow on trees around here, it’s time to give ourselves some space, and learn to wrap ourselves around relaxation, instead of confrontation.