It is hot and humid in Israel, the atmosphere pressures all those in this land. Better days are in store and fall will arrive, clouds will fly in from the Mediterranean inland toward Jordan, the temperatures will drop and life will look good once again.
Midday on Friday, the country closes down for the Shabbat. In Tel Aviv, young people converge on a bar. Once inside darkness engulfs young men and women with balloons flying overhead. People are smoking and everyone seems to be holding a glass. It is a tasting event of “exciting new products on the Israeli market.”
For young people in Tel Aviv before the one-day weekend, this is an escape from the heat into a world of “let us get to know one another.” They are beautiful and sexy, sparks are in the air and life is enchanting. Bars are big business, so is drinking. So much so that the government this week passed legislation prohibiting the sale of alcoholic beverages between 11 P.M. and 6 A.M.
The Prime Minister, who initiated the legislation said, “Drunkenness is a plague and we will fight it.” This dominated the front pages of the major Israeli newspapers for apparently the spreading phenomenon of youth drinking has become a major concern here. Driving while intoxicated results in loss of life. But drunkenness also leads to violence, so rampant today among both young adults and Israeli youth.
It is often said that Israelis live in a pressure cooker. I would agree that the climate is harsh and unwelcoming, as evidenced by the air conditioning units seen outside every apartment and house. But Israel’s predicament of having hostile neighbors can no longer be used as an excuse for creating such a stressful environment.
First, a majority of Israeli youth does not serve in the military, be it because they are ultra-orthodox (Haredi), religious young women, Arabs, or just mainstream youth that views service as unnecessary, a burden and a nuisance.
Second, the relatively few dedicated individuals who do fulfill their obligation to the country and pay their debt, no longer serve exorbitant lengths of time every year in reserve duty (“Miluim”). In fact, even the length of mandatory service has shrunk. Miluim is still a burden (much like Jury Duty in the States), but it is much more manageable than in the past.
Third, Israel is no longer on a six-day but five-day workweek.
Fourth, salaries are low relative to the cost of living, yet there is entitlement to semi-socialized medicine, unemployment and retirement benefits. Everyone in Israel is covered by the equivalent of Social Security.
Unions and associated benefits are so strong in Israel that it is impossible to escape their power. Workers of the national electric company, for example, along with their extended families and others receive free electricity. When one sees a home with an air conditioning unit that is always on, or lights that are never turned off, it is a safe bet that the person does not pay for the prohibitively expensive electricity. Numerous other examples have become the norm, not an outrageous exception.
Much as in other government entities, the main and sole concern are benefits to, ego of or the future success of the individual, not the entity being served: the consumer, taxpayer, citizen or the country.
Salaries are low, but everyone vacations overseas multiple times a year. Restaurants and bars are full of diners and stores overflow with shoppers, spending money. Somehow, everyone manages to live quite well.
Fifth, there may be problems in public diplomacy, a Goldstone Report, a Turkish Terrorist Flotilla of Lies, a UN resolution condemning Israel for one thing on Monday and another on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
There are refugees throughout the Arab world awaiting return here because Israel prevents them from coming back to “their” homes, and another two million refugees are under a so-called “siege” and naval blockade in Gaza.
Rockets are being fired from the South and missiles being amassed in the North. A sovereign calls for the elimination of Israel and is actively engaged in a race to produce the atomic bombs necessary to ensure this objective.
American Jewry is about to be separated from the Jews in Israel by a new Conversion legislation. And a very long list of other items of interest (current and pending) that appear to be of little interest to the Israelis beyond, possibly, a headline here or there.
All in all, life is very good in Israel. There are those with extraordinary amounts of money. New high rises in Tel Aviv, potentially imitating the skyline of Manhattan, beautiful beaches and even more beautiful people, tourists in ever increasing numbers and businesses even the most advanced industrialized countries in the world would be proud to entertain.
In light of these facts past excuses for a pressure cooker existence simply do not hold any more or are conveniently ignored by Israelis. It is indeed a great blessing to be living the comforts of the moment, for tomorrow may wipe the smiles off Israeli faces and replace the conviction that today’s euphoria is everlasting with the harsh grim of reality.
Israelis will be forced to return, once again, to their pioneering spirit, an ability to do more, do it better, innovate and excel. Most importantly, create good for the world, serve as the light unto the nations as they have been for millennia. Something good will emerge from the impending storm approaching this region.
Drinking, violence and corruption are just symptoms. To resolve the problems associated with these phenomena, one must get to the root cause. All else must be filed under the absurdity of living on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean.