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June 02, 1995 - Image 42

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1995-06-02

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Fasten Your Seatbelt


what we've known — a rat-race society,
a collection of individuals with little corn-
mon purpose except to keep the Arab en-
emy at bay, a two-tiered society of haves
and have-nots, a predominantly Jewish
Singapore covered with concrete, cars
and bunched-up people. An Israel that,
in its rush from the collective to the in-
dividual spirit, will have pretty much
thrown out the baby with the bathwater.
We're in a heady passage now, a tran-
sition between the old Israeleand the
new, and we're traveling hopefully. By
the time we settle into the next century,
we will have arrived, and I'm afraid we
won't be particularly inspired by what
we find.
The best way to get an idea of what
Israel will be in the first and second
decades of the next century is simply
to drive around the country. You will be
shocked by the traffic jams — Israel has
more cars per mile of road than any other
country in the world, including Hong
Kong — and by all the construction
crews ripping up the land to build more
highways and more apartment build-
ings. Pay attention to the green hills and
fields that stretch out into the distance,
because in a couple of decades they will,
for the most part, be filled with people.
Here a few statistics are in order.
Israel's current population — not count-
ing the West Bank and Gaza — is about
5.5 million. In the year 2020, Israel's
master planners project a population of
8.4 million. The number of vehicles on
the roads, now about 1.3 million, will
roughly triple. Slowly, very slowly, a pas-
senger train network is being built,
mainly around Tel Aviv and Haifa, but
it will ease only a tiny part of the traffic
What we're looking at is not only the
transformation of the entire coastal and
central regions into one continuous
urban-suburban bloc, with a few forlorn
little patches of green here and there,
but also the suburbanization of the
rambling, rural north — the Galilee.
That's about the only sprawling, open
territory we've got; there is no Montana
or Wyoming in which to stretch out. (The
Golan Heights probably will remain a
rough, sparsely populated corner — if it
is still a part of this country.) What's left
is the Negev desert, the bottom half of
the country, but 90 percent of it is closed
for military use.
Farms across Israel will be given over
for development, a trend that is already
well under way — kibbutzim, sinking in
debt, are selling off their farmland, while
moshavim (cooperative farming villages),
likewise in the red, are bulldozing their
fields to make way for $350,000 houses.
The paving of Israel, together with the
galloping growth in people and cars,
makes me wonder how much longer we
will be able to speak seriously about
"quality of life" in this country.
For many years now it's been a nerve-

racking hassle to live in either of the two
major cities, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, or
their commuter suburbs. Living in Tel
Aviv I see miles of cars hardly moving
on the inbound highways during morn-
ing rush hour. I try not to drive in town,
but on the evenings when I pick up my
wife from work, we have to travel about
a half-mile on Allenby Street, a main
thoroughfare, and I always — always —
have to swerve a few times to avoid a car
or bus swinging into my lane, and slam
on the brakes for pedestrians running
across the street.
We are not ready for what's coming.
On the whole, Israelis are not made to
live in close, crowded conditions. Too
many of them litter the streets and parks
without a care. They are noisy beyond
belief, whether they're compulsively
honking their horns on the streets or bel-
lowing to each other during a nature
walk on Shabbat. They don't know how
to wait in line, and they argue for sport.
I've heard all the excuses for Israeli
public behavior — the anxiety over terror
and war, the Holocaust, the 2,000 years

of exile, the trauma of circumcision —
but they won't wash and they don't mat-
ter. There is just too high an obnoxious-
ness quotient in this society. I think it's
dropped a bit over the years, though, as
travel abroad and American TV have in-
troduced people to the more civilized
ways of the West, and money and op-
portunity have made them less frus-
trated. Getting on a bus with a crowd of
Israelis is somewhat less of a bruising
experience than it used to be.
But after going through the mundane
human exchanges of a day, the Israeli
still comes home fairly scraped up. As
we begin to rub ever more against each
other, as we pack in closer and the fric-
tion of daily life increases, we are going
to have to change in a very fundamental
way and learn to respect each other, to
go easy on each other, or later on this
place will not be just difficult, it will be
miserable to live in.
That's at the daily, routine level of life.
At a deeper level — the level of national
values — the de-greening of the land and
the skyrocketing of the population will
empty out much of the meaning we've
traditionally understood from the ad-
jective "Israeli."

One of those meanings already has
disappeared almost entirely, and the
future will remove even the last traces.
A core value of the Zionist revolution was
that the Jews, impractical luftmentschen
for so long in the Diaspora, must not only
return to their ancestral homeland, they
must also work the land with their own
My uncles used to farm their crops
with their sons and neighboring Arabs
at Kfar Hasidim, a moshav east of Ha ifa
that my family helped found in 1925.
Now I have only one cousin left there
who's still a farmer, and he's better de-
scribed as an agribusinessman, making
most of his money growing garlic in
Morocco. The moshav has turned into a
mixture of large houses and neglected,
weedy little agricultural plots. The last
I heard, Kfar Hasidim's remaining mem-
bers were negotiating with the Israel
Electric Co. to sell their cooperatively
owned farmland for use as the site of a
new power transformer station.
The Jewish farmer has become some-
thing of an eccentric in Israel. The phys-

ical work is done mainly by Palestinians,
Israeli Arabs, and, more and more, by
foreign laborers brought over from Thai-
land and other countries. (The same goes
for construction work.) The Jews develop
great agricultural technology and mar-
ket the produce, but the sweat labor is
done overwhelmingly by gentiles. The
once-revered value of avodah Ivrit, He-
brew labor, is now an item of nostalgia,
sort of like cowpunching in Texas. The
cementing of Israel's remaining farm-
land will only make it an even more dis-
tant memory.
But there are other bedrock values of
Israeli life that are only now beginning
to come under question. Within another
generation, they too will have gone the
way of avodah Ivrit.
In the past, the Zionist tenet that Jews
must leave the Diaspora and "come
home" to Israel had not only an ideolog-
ical basis but also an obvious practical
one. Masses of Jewish immigrants were
needed to farm the land, work the fac-
tories, fill the cities and towns, and, of
course, fight the Arabs.
Not anymore. Israel already has a
great surplus of Jews to do all these
things. There is not enough work for the

Jews who are here. Unemployment ran
consistently at or above 10 percent in the
early '90s, and only recently dipped
below 8 percent, which is still high. The
army is turning away healthy, draft-age
men by the droves. The cities and high-
ways are full to bursting. And this condi-
tion, this oversupply of people, will only
be exacerbated in the future — by an es-
timated 7 million people in 2010, and 8.4
million in 2020.
Overcrowding is going to compete with
terror and the danger of war as Israel's
worst problem. So who can still seriously
argue the case for mass aliyah?
The notion that large-scale immigra-
tion would be grievously harmful to this
country remains a controversial idea, to
say the least. It strikes at the heart of
Zionism. But life here has changed rad-
ically. Anybody who looks at Israel first
as a society, not as a cause, who thinks
about real people living in a real land,
not about songs and slogans, must con-
clude that the "ingathering of the exiles"
is a Zionist goal that should be scrapped,
for Israel's sake.
This country should always welcome
Jews who need or want to come live
here, and do whatever is necessary to
get them here, and I believe it will. But
as regards the majority of the Diaspo-
ra — the Jews who live in North Amer-
ica, South America and Europe, and
who want to stay put — what interest
will Israel have in trying to convince
them otherwise?
It finally has gotten through to Jews
abroad that this country has reached
its goal of economic independence, that
it no longer requires foreign Jewish phil-
anthropy — or American governmen-
tal philanthropy, for that matter — to
live well, let alone survive. Our nouveau-
riche economy has caused no end of re-
evaluations of the Israel-Diaspora
relationship. Now there is something
new to consider — that Israel needs
more immigrants like it needs more bu-
reaucrats. Take away both philanthropy
and aliyah, and what practical, press-
ing need will bind Israel to the rest of the
Jewish world?
Another traditional Israeli value that
has faded in recent years, and which fig-
ures to become imperceptible in the next
century, is equality. My wife recalls that
when she moved here from South Africa
in the early '80s, she loved the absence
of social hierarchy, the way the bus
driver had the same status as the bank
manager or engineer.
Well, money changes everything. We
went looking for an apartment recently
in Modi'in, ancient home of the Macca-
bees and soon-to-be-built "City of the
Future." The main selling point in one
of the more expensive neighborhoods
was the "quality" of the homebuyers.
"You want to live with the right kind of
people," the real estate agent said. "There
are going to be doctors, lawyers, busi-


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