The Ugly Side of Things

The weather in Israel has not made up its mind yet – so, one day it is Spring, the next back to Winter, and we are already on the last day of April. Indeed, Mother Nature this year has been volatile the world over, from tornados to earthquakes, tsunamis to uncharacteristic rain or warmth. Shall we attempt to read anything into this unusual behavior, possibly an omen for us?

Israelis are often compared to a cactus fruit, thorny outside and sweet inside. I was thinking about this description during the last few days, as I experienced the following instances in greater intensity than ever before. As if people know something is about to happen so they are restless, less cordial, more careless when caution is needed.

There are those who would say that such instances are commonplace the world over. That may be the case, but Israel is special for me, and when they happen here, it hurts more.

At a theater earlier this week, a person was either texting or receiving a text message, or maybe his phone went off. He might have even answered. The actors all stopped, and people sitting around the culprit erupted in rage. The act then resumed, but during intermission, another show took place. The person and those around him almost engaged in a fistfight. All that fuss over the use of a phone and the rights of others to their quiet surroundings.

I went to the post office to buy stamps and first I was checked with a meter (the like of which is used when we ring at an airport TSA security check), then I needed to choose between various options at a machine standing at the entrance: Foreign Currency, Packages or All Services.

The machine spewed a computer ticket with a number printed on it. I was reminded of the line at the DMV: numbers that start with an “A,” “C” or “D,” and at least an hour’s wait.

I stood observing the people. Suddenly, several numbers were announced at once, 385, 386, 387. A lady approached the counter, her number is 387 and I am 391. At about the same time another lady approached and she was 386. “NO WAY,” says the first, “you lost your place. The number was called, and you did not respond.”

It is true she did not respond-for ten seconds she did not pay attention, while the other was ready to jump. Jump to where?

Their voice tones, already high, rose even further, and the teller did not insist to resolve the issue by serving the one with the lower number. Neither lady was young, in fact neither acted in a lady-like manner.

In the meantime, 387 called an elderly gentleman sitting aside. He needed to use his cane and it took some time for him to reach the counter. Number 386 backed up and said to the elderly gentleman: “You should not have waited at all. May you be blessed with good health.” She probably meant it because her demeanor had changed and she retreated.

387 (apparently a caretaker) and the older gentleman waited for the teller to process their request. Meanwhile the gentleman reprimanded the teller for not talking more loudly, and later the caretaker remarked so everyone could hear: “If you do not have patience for your customers, you should not be working at the counter!” she walked over to 386 and started talking as if they had not had a squabble just moments earlier.

There were other instances, like people turning into their driveway oblivious to the pedestrians on the sidewalk, drivers who completely ignore pedestrians trying to cross the street at crosswalks, honkers who prefer the horn to being cautious or courteous and those who resort to cursing.

At the entrance to the Jerusalem central bus station, everyone had to pass a security check. One woman in particularly was rushing, as though all of us ahead of her were of no consequence. She simply pushed her way in. We later arrived at the escalators at the same time, and I was dismayed at her lack of progress. Despite all the shoving and disrespect, she was not far ahead of us. She could not understand what she had done wrong.

Another woman at a train station actually reprimanded the security for not working faster. She, too, was in a hurry (or was she trying to distract them from doing their job?).

Another woman was parking in a private parking space, and when approached opened such a mouth in front of her children that all those who witnessed the exchange felt ashamed for the woman and sorry, for her kids.

I guess I am very lucky. In Israel today, as seen almost daily in the news, when people do not get their way, or when they think you have insulted them or used the wrong tone of voice, they may pull out a knife or a gun, or simply beat you to death. A judgment was just pronounced against several men who beat another man they did not like. They would not stop when he begged them to stop and continued to beat him. He later died and they were convicted of manslaughter, but because the conviction was not of murder in the first degree, there is outrage in the country.

Violence, very little patience and rudeness are now a plague in Israel. There seem to be no boundaries, no rules, no stops; a modern society’s ills.

The intensity with which a person can lose control is as instantaneous as the ability to afterward return to normalcy, forgetting the earlier moment’s occurrence and resuming a facade of goodness, or at the very least to status quo.

I am horrified.

Israelis are those who would stand and wait when the little man on the sign says “DO NOT WALK” even if there is not a car in sight. Yet now they do everything counterintuitive, illogical, unpermitted and even illegal without a blink of an eye. Something is wrong, deeply wrong, for it is a thriving society that enjoys unparalleled economic growth and success. This behavior is impossible to comprehend.

I have not pinpointed the root cause for this behavior, but its prevalence and magnitude continue to astonish and worry me. Then, I suddenly bump into the inner-sweetness of the cacti fruits. People like a war veteran with 100% disability who successfully works in orthopedics helping others cope although he himself lost both kidneys, a lung and half of another internal organ. He recently had an implant of a kidney.

I still cannot reconcile the good with the bad I have seen and experienced. The bad must be fought and uprooted. It has nothing to do with any “external demands,” “military service” or “terror attacks” and must definitely not be excused or dismissed. The society has evolved to an ultra-modern state, and I do not like what I see. The “bad” overshadows all the good deeds, which are insufficient as an offset when the day comes for reconciliation.

In the meantime, I am determined to go visit local schools, youth groups and the military. This coming week I am invited to an officer’s course at the IDF, where the elite of the crop is present. I am looking to seeing what the future may hold.

I remember an exercise once given to the officers in training: to write down the words of the national anthem. There are things, basic facts of history and basic symbols of the state that must be engraved in the mind of every officer, of every Israeli. Similarly, there are values and traits of behavior that must be engrained, and if they are not practiced, they should be embedded by training.

I will be reporting my findings in the coming days and weeks. I hope I see more good than bad and more happy than sad. One can hope.

In the series “Postcards from Israel,” Ari Bussel and Norma Zager invite readers throughout the world to join them as they present reports from Israel as seen by two sets of eyes: Bussel’s on the ground, Zager’s counter-point from home. Israel and the United States are inter-related – the two countries we hold dearest to our hearts – and so is this “point – counter-point” presentation that has, since 2008, become part of our lives.