Published in The Jerusalem Post on June 4, 2000
Israel has changed so very much since I moved here.
When I moved here, television ads were for drinking milk and eating oranges; not “Clinica-On” and Orange cell phones. You couldn’t get a regular telephone for years, even if the prime minister intervened on your behalf. Today, every 16-year-old has two lines, plus a cell phone.
Back then, all cars were white, and air conditioning was an uncommon luxury. The country’s wadis were filled with sand, not silicone. It was illegal to hold foreign currency, even for most businesses. Anatoly Sharansky was Prisoner of Zion and Shimon Peres was on the right wing of the Labor Party. English was the country’s second language, not Russian.
When I moved here, serving your country was a privilege; living here was its own reward. Draft dodgers were people who closed their front doors when the evening breeze started. Israelis who moved to America were *yordim* – even if they went to play basketball or star in the movies.
Passover and Succoth vacations were for hiking the wadis, streams, mountains and flower fields of the Galilee. Not for shopping-till-you-drop in the air conditioned malls of Ramat Aviv or for flights out to Greece and Turkey. We danced hora, not trance.
Back then, our lives were governed by the Ten Commandments, good judgement and common sense. ‘Grass’ was mowed, ‘coke’ was a soft drink, and ‘pot’ was something your mother cooked in. “Tzvika” had a mother and a father – of two different sexes. The Bible Quiz was the highlight of Independence Day television, not the gay and lesbian Love Parade in Tel Aviv.
Non-kosher restaurants were rare. Shabbat was truly a day of reflective rest, down-time for every Israeli. The Bible was a best-seller, not *Memoirs of a Geisha*. The Western Wall was where Jews went to pray, not demonstrate.
A domestic or criminal murder committed by a Jew was so rare and shocking that it held the headlines for weeks.
When I moved here, Israelis struck me as a very nosy people; everyone into everybody else’s business. Help and advice were offered freely, even when it wasn’t solicited nor desired. Today, privacy is the buzzword, and Israelis are most concerned about the grass in their own backyards.
Meretz meant the strength to work hard. Shas was the six orders of the Talmud. Lapid was a torch you held high with pride at state ceremonies. David Levy was a hawk. Dayan and Burg were the names of our most thoughtful, impressive leaders. Oslo and Stockholm were wonderful, far-away places where you could get away from Middle East politics.
A ‘Patriot’ was proud citizen, not a missile. Even the intellectuals were unabashedly patriotic. ‘Zionism’ was considered the country’s heroic and defining ideology, not a chauvinist and politically incorrect prejudice. ‘Settlement’ wasn’t a dirty word.
The Law of Return brought Jews to Israel. The Supreme Court dealt with legal issues, and left it to you and me to decide what is ‘reasonable’. Nowadays, Justice Barak and company decide daily which personal religious beliefs of mine are ‘reasonable’ and which aren’t — and they call this ‘law’.
US Jews used Israel’s plight to raise money, and actually transferred the funds raised to Israel. They didn’t play favorites by funding Israeli political parties or partisan agendas.
Lebanon was the Arab country we had the least problems with. The Iranians were our friends too. Jerusalem was the eternal, undivided capital of Israel. A unifying symbol. It was the first choice of schools on annual school trips.
Back then, Israel was feared, not fearful. The Golan Heights and the Jordan Valley were “indispensable” to Israel’s security, by consensus. Withdrawal was a financial term; something you did with money at the bank. Today, ‘withdrawal’ marks the state of the nation, something we are practicing on the West Bank and other national and cultural fronts too.
Yasser Arafat was the head of a terrorist organization, determined to replace the State of Israel and make Jerusalem his capital. Today, well, he is still determined to make Jerusalem the Palestinian capital and he’s a lot closer.
But then again, we’re six million strong in this country; a poignant riposte to Hitler’s Holocaust. The Hebrew language has been resurrected from the neglect of Diaspora dispersions. We have two peace treaties with Arab neighbors and a strategic relationship with the most powerful nation-state on earth. A bit of traditionalism and values-education are beginning their comebacks. We had rain this past winter.
We can yet change Israel for the better.