Dateline: Tel Aviv
I’m still stunned. Having my morning Illy cappuccino at my favorite 24-hour coffee shop, following a long walk, chi-gung and tai-chi (to be able to take long walks) and a swim in the light blue Mediterranean -- the world stopped.
The bustle of the street in front of me on Dizengoff –- strollers, trucks, taxis, motorcycles, the leaves and blue lined white flags fluttering.
A gentle siren sounded at 10am exactly.
Everyone stopped – got out of their cars, off the motorcycles, bikes and let the hand holding the apple they were eating drop to their side; and my fellow coffee drinkers stood up motionless. Only the leaves and flags waved in the wind in silence. A still life 3-D photo. The 40 people in my warm bright world stood at attention for two minutes. Today is Holocaust Memorial day.
My coffee shop, my hotel have tables with stones, flowers and six candles that burn all day for the lost 4.5 million Jews and the 1.5 million children of a missing generation, murdered for being Jews. Like me.
The book I read on the plane that took me half the way around the globe was Yoram Hazony’s The Jewish State: The Struggle for Israel’s Soul Basic Books; 2000.
I don’t believe in portends. I’ve crossed the artic more than fifty times at night, always hoping to see the aurora borealis. I saw it for the first time on this flight. Slow moving curtains of white light in a clear sky from 35,000 feet.
Hazony, in his book, tells the story of Israel's history as a battle between Theodore Herzl, whose own 1896 book The Jewish State proclaimed the idea of an Israel as a political state that would be the guardian of the wandering, hated, butchered, exiled Jews. Herzl formed an alliance with the Orthodox Jews, dying in pogroms in the Pale of Settlement, and with the practical labor-socialists who idealized farming and labor and settled on kibbutzim in Palestine.
The opposition was Martin Buber and the intellectuals who believed Jews were only a spiritual people who must never have an army and could only settle Palestine in friendship with the Arabs. (Despite Buber and his views, the Arabs of Palestine regularly slaughtered the Jews every few years and still try to.) Buber was joined by the German-Jewish Reform community who believed that a Jewish state would hinder their successful assimilation in Germany, France, Britain and the United States.
My father knew and worked with Rabbi Voorsanger, of San Francisco’s Temple Emanuel, who opposed a Jewish State and my father knew S.F. Congressman Julius Kahn who passed Congressional resolutions against a Jewish state.
I heard Buber speak at the University of Chicago as a student. Not about Israel. My closest friend’s mother, in 1954, was national president of the American Jewish Committee, an organization which still at that date opposed the Jewish state as a threat to assimilation of Jews in America.
Tel Aviv is a great city. A city of commerce –- walking boulevards, bustling shopping streets everywhere, clean, Bauhaus and skyscraper modern. The bus system is magnificent and ubiquitous. To my surprise, buses have velvet seats like Japan.
I gaze directly in the eyes of about 500 people a day on my 4-8 mile wandering walks around Tel Aviv. There is very little graffiti, one or two homeless, three or four beggars. The music in lobbies, coffee shops, on the street, is upbeat. People are courteous, cars give way to pedestrians and Sonie (my lover) will be happy to know most people obey pedestrian traffic signals. The city is as safe as Tokyo. One of my 83 year old interviewees walks home from the theatre at midnight without a second thought –- so do young women I see alone at that time.