Saturday, February 19, 2011


Travelin' in Israel: Tel Aviv, a small city with a big ideological meaning

I am finally taking a trip to Israel (woo-hoo! first time!) with a group from my shul. Our trip has begun in Tel Aviv and pretty much that's all I've seen thus far.

Contrary to what I had thought about Tel Aviv being the modern metropolis of modern Israel (which statement seems to be yet another Zionist myth), Tel Aviv is very small, actually. It's like a mini version of LA/Santa Monica, CA. So I guess it's because I'm a proud escapee of the LA area, but I have not yet had the "you're at home" feeling we Jewsians are s'posed to have in Israel.

That being said, it's really nice being in a place with so many kosher restaurants, a shul around every corner, etc. But then again, I already live in such a place. Seriously, though, I do like it here. And I guess I'll get that soulful Jewish feeling (although I had that feeling in a Masorti synagogue here where we went for Shabbos morning services) in Jerusalem.

What really strikes me though is the degree to which Tel Aviv really is a Zionist paradise (which is why I guess Zionist mythos makes it out to be such a grand place): it is really quite a normal place (at least to me as a former resident of Sunny So. Cal) where it is normal to be Jewish, if not religiously so.

This normality also strikes directly at the kishkes of both right wing and left wing arguments about Israel: even if there is no intellectual basis for evaluating arguments based on first emotional impressions, being in Tel Aviv (where security certainly is more of a presence than even in supposedly 'yellow terrorism alert' America) you hardly feel the sense of existential danger the right claims Israel and Israelis are constantly experiencing. And it certainly is hard to feel in such a normal place (with everything translated into Arabic) a sense that Israelis exist solely as colonialists bent on subjugating Arabs for the sake of Western Imperialism as some lefties seem to like to believe.

This place just is. It's not the nicest place in the world. Outside of when I was in shul, I didn't feel any more "Jewish" here or at home here than anywhere else. But from a classical Zionist perspective, Tel Aviv is the Zionist dream: a place where Jews live normal lives without constant fear of pograms, or even (more shallowly) "what will people say when they realize I'm a Hebe?". It's a triumph of classical Zionism -- and that undermines both the rights' arguments based on a fear of "what will happen if ..." and especially left wing anti-Zionist arguments that misrepresent the very purpose of Zionism and imbue it with an original sin that doesn't actually exist within anything but the straw Zionism of the left.

And I guess that's why they like Jews like me to visit Israel. Not because "oh wow! I feel at home here! Now I'm going to support only candidates who feel Bibi is too soft" but rather because it strikes those of us prone to leftist thought right in the kishkes with what Israel is about. We might not agree with (classical) Zionism intellectually and Israel may itself have drifted away, for better or for worse, from its Zionist moorings, but classical Zionism is, at some level what a place like Tel Aviv is about. And that really undermines, if not intellectually, emotionally the arguments of extremists around these parts.

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