Sunday, March 25, 2007

To Build or to Elbow? That is the Question

Reut recently asked me and other olim from work to attend a discussion about our Aliya experiences. I spoke about the different perspectives between an oleh and an immigrant (between the person who comes to Israel expecting a free ride and the one who expects a constant uphill struggle) as well as the difficulty of maintaining our tolerant and polite upbringing in a region where that can make you a freier, a sucker. Meanwhile, a French-German friend actually discussed her efforts to shed her Europeaness and embrace being Israeli instead. Another colleague, originally from New Jersey, mentioned the advice an Israeli cab driver gave him which he still uses today; that in Israel you have to Lidchof UleHidachef – to push, and then push a bit more (use your elbows) to get by here.

I doubt the taxi driver knew this, but his advice contrasted to the ideology of the early Bilu pioneers, who came to Israel in the 1880s not to Lidchof UlHidachef but to Livnot UleHibanot, to build the land and to be built through it.

Sometimes I wonder what those early Chalutzim would think of modern day Israel. The technology, immigration and strong economy on the one hand, but also the poverty, lack of peace and the perception of wide scale corruption on the other. Modern day Israeli icons such as writer Etgar Keret or singer Aviv Gefen don’t idealize traditional Israeli symbols like the army while Meretz MK Haim Oron recently quipped that while his generation wanted Israel to be a 'success story', for his children its enough if its merely a 'story'.

Certainly disappointment towards our leaders reflects a situation in which we have long stopped being built through the land and begun to use our elbows instead. One concerned citizen even published an obituary notice in Ha’aretz for the State of Israel - not because he mourns its establishment, but simply what it’s become.

And yet within the plethora of elbows and ambivalence, small things always happen that tilt the balance back a bit…

Walking to the bus stop after a night out, the number 26 (which comes every 30 mins and takes me straight home) drove past. Seeing it stop at a traffic light fifty yards in front of me, I ran, knocked on the door, and made a pleading gesture with my hand. Despite Israeli rules that doors are only opened at bus stops, my hand signal (or just general charm) must have won out because the bus driver let me on.

It is tough here, and I still worry that someone who doesn’t use their elbows won’t manage in this small Middle Eastern country. But every now and then, stories like the number 26 bus repay, however slightly, my faith that Lidchof UleHidachef isn’t always the way things have to be here. Every now and then, it’s good to know that manners and politeness do have advantages with people, and that being pleasant and friendly doesn’t always make you a freier.

And that even stories such as Etgar Keret’s The Bus Driver who wanted to be God reflect a human side within the greater scale of life’s disenchantment.