Jewish Journal


September 19, 2013

Tel Aviv guilt: A holiday in the eye of the Middle Eastern storm



Tel Aviv in repose

Save for a few stray rockets, it's been a quiet September holiday in Israel. I watched the national stress level plummet on Rosh Hashanah, an extended weekend with a similar spirit as Christmas Break in America (but without all the mall panic). Yom Kippur last week was a rare cleansing of the senses in smoggy, rackety Tel Aviv. Sukkot, which lasts a FULL WEEK, has likewise been breathtaking: Little white tents all over the White City, filled with happy people who have more days off this month than days on. Definitely a concept I can get behind.

But the lovelier that life in Israel's modern beach city becomes, the fuller I brim with Tel Aviv guilt — that sick sense of contrast between our island of calm and the atrocities unfolding a short drive north, south and east. Syrians are dying; Gazans are starving; Egypt and Lebanon are embroiled in bloody civil wars. And here we are chilling in our sukkahs, giving thanks.

There are of course still moments of bomb anticipation in Tel Aviv, too, like during the conflict with Gaza last November, and — almost — last month, when the U.S. was fully expected to set off a chain of aggression in the Middle East. The heartbreak of the First and Second Intifadas, and the wars before them, is never far off. Israel's south is always listening for the next air-raid siren. But one thing Israelis have over their neighbors is the knowledge that no matter what happens, the most powerful military tag-team in the universe will be there to defend them at the first sign of danger. There's a reason Israel has a higher concentration of journalists than any other country: Because it's an eye in the Middle Eastern storm, to which a reporter can scurry back for a good night's sleep after a few weeks in the warzone.

In quiet moments like these, we can hear our neighbors screaming. And although it makes me grateful for all that I have, my sukkah is filled with Tel Aviv guilt.

Jewish Israelis often tell me that they just want to live their life — their Western life — like any other Western person in the world. And I see where they're coming from. The students at my University of California campus who stormed student-government meetings and criticized Israel's violent offensive, and its preventative measures in Palestine (prioritizing absolute safety over the human rights of the trapped Palestinians), seem so silly and out-of-context, in retrospect. How easy it is to criticize another Western aggressor when you're wrapped in your own cozy Western mall culture, just like the one Israel craves, on a land seized from another people.

It's much more difficult to reconcile this contrast when you're living in the middle of it. Especially when you're taking shelter in the eye of the storm.

Who knows — Tel Aviv could come under siege tomorrow. Knock on wood. But over a beautiful string of holidays in the Holy Land, the end-of-summer breeze has been heavy with the hurt of hundreds of thousands of our neighbors, so close yet so far off, fighting for their own peaceful September.

Kind of makes a shiksa want to go all Chris Jeon on this bubble and rush Damascus for the cause.

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