Israel is a place I lived for ten out of the thirteen years between October 1981 and August 1994, between age 23 and 36. I accomplished so much here during those years and enjoyed a wide range of priceless experiences. I studied a lot and I mentored others; so many people reached out to give me a hand in acclimating to the vagaries of life in a foreign land. Eventually I mastered the language and learned to navigate the business practices and the government bureaucracies and the social mores and the cultural norms. Just when I really felt that I fit in… I left.
Since then I only succeed in getting back once every five years. The last time, in 2009, I managed to finagle a four-week stay in a free apartment provided by an admirer. This time no gracious sponsor underwrote my adventure, so I had to draw in my horns a bit, limiting my trip to one week in a lovely apartment-hotel in Jerusalem. Seven days is hardly enough time to shake off jet lag, much less get to a healthy relaxed state. So it is a reluctant body I drag around, and a sleepy head. But as King Solomon said: “I am asleep but my heart is awake.”
Landing in Lod Airport outside Tel Aviv on Monday, I was once again amazed at the newness of my surroundings. Because Israel is a self-consciously young country — a mere lad of 66 — it is constantly refurbishing and upgrading. It is never content to leave well enough alone. The result is a pervasive dynamism which spills over into other areas of life besides construction.
It is fair to say that every street seems to have at least one crane looming overhead. Often two or three buildings are going up simultaneously. In addition, the last few years of completed projects gleam in the foreground. The boom is not limited to private housing. Public infrastructure also continues to advance by leaps and bounds.
In the two decades since I returned stateside, this state — already beautiful then — has polished its visage to a sheen. When I lived here, there was not a single traffic tunnel. Now there are several well-designed and well-traveled ones. There was only one train in the country back then, traversing the country from Jerusalem to Haifa and back. Now there is above-ground light rail on several urban arteries, including a stunningly gorgeous system granted exclusive use of Jaffa Street in Jerusalem. Seeing the supple locomotives gliding effortlessly down the cobblestone pathways of Jerusalem’s most storied thoroughfare, in place of its notorious crawling honking mass of automobiles, sends a dose of adrenaline through your blood stream.
The motif of youth extends into human resources as well. There is a very youthful atmosphere in the public square, a combination of local kids, exchange students from around the world and a steady flow of Jewish youth groups from around the world under the aegis of organizations like Birthright and Taglit seeking to foster Jewish awareness in college-age students. Granted, I come from South Florida, where the aged are a disproportionate presence, but I suspect the vibe of youthful potential here I unmistakable. My 18-year-old daughter is studying here this year and as we circulate together, we encounter her peers everywhere.
As far as the “peace process” and matters political, they are furthest from people’s minds. Years ago it was child’s play to get a quote from any citizen on the security situation. No longer. The vast majority shrugs off those considerations, having inured themselves to those noises playing like Muzak in the background of their busy, rewarding lives. Things have been more or less the same for decades, so why fret? Leave that nonsense for the politicians…
My optimism about the future of the country has been reinforced to a significant degree. The soldiers are an olive daub on the multicolored canvas of life in a buzzing, upbeat country. They are boys and girls themselves, fresh-faced and untroubled by their role in preserving the prevalent sense of safety. This is an exciting place to be in history, a nation bearing its noble past proudly on its shoulders as it marches toward its prophetic future. This place is fun. I must make a note to come here more often.