War? What War?

By

Leonard Zwelling

         The sun poured into the breakfast room several floors above
the beach in Tel Aviv on our first morning in Israel. The surfers were out. The
volley ballers were active and the chaise lounges awaited the sun bathers. Does
this look like a country at war? Not at all.

         Last evening the beach side restaurant to which we were
taken was full and boisterous. Thursday evening is the beginning of the Israeli
weekend, so many couples and families were out and about in the warm and humid salt
air. It felt like Houston in September or perhaps Galveston in Hebrew.

 There were no air raid sirens although signs
to shelters abound. The Iron Dome went unused although the Israelis are skeptical
that it really exists. They wonder if their government just makes a show of the
putative protective barrier over the city by firing a rocket at another one of
their own rockets. I cannot believe that, but Israelis are even more
distrusting of their government than we are of ours.

The
city lights were fully lit and the traffic was dreadfully slow crawling along
the sea side road that is lined with luxury hotels full of Israelis and a
smattering of foreigners who were not frightened away by CNN.  There’s a reason all the western reporters
are in Gaza. There is rubble to film and bodies to count. In the main city of
Israel, perhaps 50 miles up the coast from the war zone, life goes on as usual.
Neither Wolf Blitzer nor Anderson Cooper are very interested in the normal life
of Israel. I suspect that this is just fine with the Israelis, the least
confused people I know. And that’s why I love Israel so. There is nothing iffy
about Israel. My guess is that there was nothing iffy about Americans in the
1840’s 66 years after the Declaration of Independence was signed.

         Long conversation with our hosts taught us that Israeli
national politics are just as confusing and full of human actors who are not
among the best and brightest (they say sharpest pencils in Hebrew) of the
sabras. Just like us. Corruption is rampant. Progress is slow and competence in
high places is hard to come by. Just like us. The start-up nation is roaring
and the building of high-rise offices and living space goes unabated in this
ever-expanding metropolis on the Mediterranean as it does in the major cities
of America. America, what a concept! Israel, what a concept!

         Our hosts say that perhaps the Palestinians in Gaza are to
them what the American Indians were to the first post-Revolutionary Americans.

         “But,” he said, “the American Indians weren’t trying to kill
you.”

         To which I said, “66 years after the signing of the
Declaration of Independence, they certainly were trying to kill the white
people. Little Big Horn was after the Civil War.”

         But America is a vaster land mass than Israel. Solving the
dilemma of the three Israels—democracy, Jewish state, and 1967 boundaries—is
still a work in progress.

Nonetheless,
on this Tel Aviv morning as we eat the halavah, tabouli, pickled herring and
fresh fruit, and you sleep, we say once again as we have for the past 24 hours,
“it’s a great country—just like ours.”

As
my tee shirt from 1999 says: Israel. Just Do It.

If
nothing else, our Shabbat in Tel Aviv was one of extreme contrasts. On Friday
evening, we were guests of a Lubavitch family in a residential area of Tel
Aviv. Of course, my friend Rabbi Yossi of the Shul of Bellaire set this all up
in the hyper-fast Chabad email network that would be the envy of the CIA.

It
was traditional and fun evening. Most of what I had learned in my reading about
Israeli politics was reinforced by our hosts as it had been the evening before.
This couple were the parents of 12 children and grandparents of many (he could
not or would not give me the number). As I have said many times these sons and
daughters of the Rebbe are the least confused people I know and always a
delight.

Saturday
morning began early—at the beach. The sand filled quickly and the crowds
contrast markedly with what will be the case during the daylight hours of  Shabbat in Jerusalem. Here it’s a play day.
There, if things are as they were in 1999, it will be very quiet with minimal
traffic and all stores closed until the sun sets.

Israel
is a land of contrasts, but how can anyone from Houston criticize. Any city
that can boast the largest rodeo, largest medical center, and largest scandal
in the history of American business is used to turning on a dime and easily
holding Yao Ming and Annise Parker simultaneously in its collective mind. And
we Houstonians are proud of it. So are the citizens of Tel Aviv whether they
rest at home, in synagogue or on the beach on Shabbat.

Our
official tour starts tomorrow. The jet lag has been shaken off. Now if only we
could get Law and Order on the TV in the room….

And
in a story CNN will not report:

Jewish Family Rescued by Palestinians during Terror Attack

Leonard Zwelling