Tel Avivians Have a Headache

On a recent Friday night, Tel Aviv ran out of the Israeli equivalent of Tylenol. A killer migraine throbbing away, I went to not one, not two, but six grocery stores in search of relief. "What’s going on in this … Read More

By / June 2, 2009

On a recent Friday night, Tel Aviv ran out of the Israeli equivalent of Tylenol. A killer migraine throbbing away, I went to not one, not two, but six grocery stores in search of relief. "What’s going on in this city?" a clerk asked me. "Everyone’s got a headache."  Maybe it’s because we have a lot to wrap our heads around. Tel Aviv, the capital of Israeli secularism, recently marked its 100th anniversary. But we celebrated under the pall of Jerusalem’s changing-of-the-guard—including Liberman’s ominous "If you want peace, prepare for war."

Anat Litvak, a 29-year-old educational psychologist, doesn’t mince words. "I hate it," she says of the new government. “Netanyahu is a manipulator, a dictator.” When asked if this government represents her, Litvak quickly answers, “No.” Litvak feels she speaks for many Tel Avivians, "Here, I feel very much like part of the consensus," she says. "But in situations like elections you see that most of the country isn’t like Tel Aviv. It’s a shock."

The gulf between Judean-Hills-ensconced Jerusalem and oh-so-Mediterranean Tel Aviv was emphasized in the February vote when Tel Aviv went Kadima and Jerusalem went Likud. 28-year-old Jesse Fox, who immigrated to Israel from the US 10 years ago, is an urban planner, activist, writer, and something of an authority on Tel Aviv politics. Fox also points to the municipal elections as yet another reflection of the division between the “young, Bohemian” city and the rest of the Israel. Ir Lekoolanu (City for All), a party Fox summarizes as a “red-green movement” meaning that it is “both environmental and socialist”, received strong support from local voters. That members of Ir Lekoolanu were once grassroots activists and radicals now sit on the City Council signifies a realignment of the city’s politics, according to Fox. “All of the energies pushing for change are here,” he says. “But the state of Tel Aviv loses to the state of Israel." 

Fox’s knowledge of and enthusiasm for politics is less than typical. Dror Goldblum, a 25-year-old industrial design student says that he didn’t vote in national elections because, "I like some of the political ideologies of the right wing, but they support the religious people… no one really represents my opinion." The result? He shrugs, takes a sip of a headache remedy—a Saturday afternoon mimosa at a fashionably-low-key restaurant on Dizengoff. "It doesn’t matter to me," he says of the new government.

But does Zionism still matter? Goldblum, whose maternal grandmother who escaped the Warsaw Ghetto and whose paternal grandmother who was part of the Irgun in then-Palestine, holds to the notion that Israel should be a country for Jews. But for him, the choice to live in Israel is just that. A choice. He wants to live amongst his friends and family. "It’s more comfortable,” he says.

Litvak, who has toyed with the idea of leaving Israel for either England or Australia, echoes Goldblum’s sentiment. Litvak’s parents were propelled from Lithuania to Israel in the 1970s by a deep belief in a Jewish nation, and a desire to be part of it, “But that isn’t my Zionism," she says. “I don’t have to live here. Nowadays people make a decision [to live in Israel] and some decide to leave… I can understand people who leave and go somewhere else. If I decide to stay here, it’s not about ideology.”

Though Fox is clearly a Zionist in some sense of the word, he is hesitant to call himself one. "Do I think that Jews have a right to live here and have their own country? Of course I do. But the right-wing has co-opted the word," he says. "And the way the government uses it? I don’t connect with that. Zero.” 

Fox feels that just as Tel Aviv replaced Jaffa 100 years ago and Israel came to replace Palestine, today the "Zionist vision of conquering needs to be replaced with a Zionism that is more modest and sensitive… The current government is the polar opposite of what we need now."

As much as the politicians’ vision for Israel isn’t representative of many Tel Avivians, Fox’s less-than-optimistic view is.

But the death of optimism is nothing new here—it gasped its last a long time ago. Litvak prepares to join the festivities on Rabin square in honor of Tel Aviv’s 100th birthday Saturday night. She speaks about the assassination that gave the plaza its name and our generation its disillusionment, "I was 15 when Rabin died. Before that I thought my children wouldn’t have to serve in the army. Now I know they’ll have to." 

Between a government that doesn’t reflect the feelings of many Tel Avivians, and city-dwellers’ loose attachment to both the country and Zionism, it doesn’t seem like our headache is going away any time soon. Goldblum looks a century ahead and offers a tongue-in-cheek prediction, "All the secular people will be gone. Only the (Orthodox Jews) and Arabs will be left. They’ll fight each other– and the Arabs will win because they don’t go to the army." Despite the gap between Tel Aviv and the rest of the country, Goldblum’s black humor is typical of both.


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