Tel Aviv: More Main Street Than a City at War

Tel Aviv: More Main Street
Than a City at War

By

Leonard Zwelling

         Though jet lagged from the 10+ hour flight from Newark that
landed in the late afternoon in Israel, we hit the streets of Tel Aviv as soon
as we checked into the lovely boutique Norman Hotel.

         You are struck by so many images that are the same as those
in America and some so different.

         Tel Aviv is a city on the move, even during the Jewish
holiday of Sukkot. Traffic can still be challenging in the narrow streets lined
with parked cars on both sides in front of architecture having a distinct
British colonial feel to it. The British are long gone, but their influence is
everywhere in the stones and bricks. Fortunately, not in the traffic. They
drive on the right here.

         Almost every fashion poster displays a gorgeous blonde
selling something. On the streets themselves, very few blondes are in evidence.
The strong Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews are dark haired and dark skinned and
even the most beautiful out at night would never be considered for a Bergman
film.

         The stores are open late, at least some of them. The cafes
are bustling. The lines of young Israelis snake onto the sidewalks waiting for
slices of pizza. The two obvious differences between the people here and those
in New York are that here the national shoe is the flip-flop and Israelis still
smoke more than Americans.

But
I was far more struck by how ordinary everything was. You could easily have
mistaken the locale for Brooklyn or other parts of New York except for the
rat-a-tat of rapid fire Hebrew, which always sounds like someone is mad at
somebody. This is mixed with English and a lot of Russian. We felt safe and
albeit clearly not in America, not that far off either.

         Another walk the following day was more of the same. Even
dropping by the Yemenite Quarter market was an experience like one might have
in New York with many languages, many people rushing about as the Sabbath
approaches, and vendors hawking their wares. I was struck, as I always am, by
the full-scale invasion of American images I call the “Britney Spears and Blue
Jeans Effect.” American logos and iconic images from Elvis to Michael Jackson
are on everything from cell phones to tee shirts. America is still an idea here
as much as it is a military power, the source of blue jeans, and the maker of movie
magic.

         Renting a car in Tel Aviv was like renting one nowhere else
though.

         All of the Avis employees were young Israeli men who spoke
limited English despite the storefront being up against the Mediterranean beach
that is a major tourist attraction, filled with luxury hotels for visitors, but now with many Israelis during the holiday period. I
had ordered GPS for the rental car. They had none. Instead one can rent an iPad
that is loaded with a GPS system as well as other assorted apps. We took the
bait. She spoke English.

        

And
it was good she did because the tiny rental office had no cars there. Instead
we were driven 20 minutes deep into the city away from the beach to a
non-descript lot of vehicles of Korean or Japanese origin. The lot is one-tenth
the size of one in the States, and there we got our silver Hyundai. It had
64,000 kilometers on it and a lifetime’s worth of scratches and dents that I
dutifully identified with the attendant to make sure I don’t get blamed for
them. Also a good plan. My insurance is no good here and I had to buy extra.
This very used Korean import is going to cost me what a new Cadillac would at
LAX, but it is still cheaper than taking a cab to play golf Saturday.

This
is Israel. So different than the US, but yet so much the same.

The
iPad was used by the BW as soon as we got into the car as we had to get back to
the hotel from the car lot that was in an area of Tel Aviv we had never
encountered. When we dropped the car off at the hotel front, I waited for the
attendant because this car requires a four-digit code to start it. I assumed it
was some sort of override safety feature that prevented its theft. I had to
make sure to teach the attendant about this code system.

When
the attendant arrived he asked immediately, “What’s the code?” This wasn’t his first rodeo.

And
this isn’t mine in Israel, but every time peels back another layer. We may be
headed for troubled parts:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/02/world/middleeast/palestinian-gunmen-kill-israeli-parents-of-4-in-west-bank.html

but
perhaps no more so than at home given the latest gun violence at a school, this
time in Oregon.

Israel
or Oregon? Where are you safer?

It
is hard to know any more but as President Obama noted, far more Americans are
killed by guns in the US than were killed by terrorists anywhere. We may be
approaching the day when an American school child is safer in the West Bank
than in his homeroom.

How
sad that it has come to this!

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