report from israel--part one
You know you're in Israel when no one waits in line and no one could care less how important you are (or think you are). One of my dinner companions the other night was the sister-in-law of the Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert. Not only did no one recogize her, she insisted on sitting in the (smallish) back seat on the way to dinner. The food was, however, very good.
One of the most noticeable changes in Israel is the psychological difference of the "center," by which people basically mean Tel Aviv, from the rest of the country. When I asked a taxi driver on the way from the airport how the Lebanon War had affected things, he answered, "like nothing ever happened." Whether this is a natural desire to keep on living, or simply an indiffernce to things happening 50 miles away, is hard to say. I'll go to Haifa in a week or two and see how they answer the question there.
I'm teaching at Bar Ilan, the only religious university, which forces one to confront one's stereotypes about the different groups in Israeli society. Generally speaking there are more religious people in the Israeli establishment than a generation ago: one sees people with kippot at shopping malls, nice (kosher) restaurants, and the like much more than one used to. Yet many of the same people live and socialize separately from the rest of society: a bit like different races in America, whom work together more and more but live together less and less. The line of students hitching for rides outside Bar Ilan, many to small West Bank settlements, seems to support this conclusion.
Jews being Jews, everyone has a religion, even if it isn't the old one. I bought a new pair of running shoes at a local mall and showed up at the gym, attached to my hotel, and 7:15 for a run. All the treadmills were taken, as best I could tell, none of them by anyone under 70, all of whom ran faster and were obviously up earlier than I was. Don't worry, said a man in a jacket marked "coach" on the back, this is only their warm-up. They'll be headed to the real exercise program in another ten minutes. Maybe they'll run to Teheran and shut down the nuclear program before anybody wakes up.