Impressions from Israel
In April this year, 2015, I visited Israel again. My annual pilgrimage for the last fifty years to a country I consider my own.
This visit reminded me of a joke from the communist era. A person comes to a hospital and asks to see an eye and an ear doctor.
“There is no such thing,” he is told. “It is either an eye doctor, or a nose, throat, and ear doctor. Why do you want one?”
“Because what I see is not what I hear,” he says.
In Israel I hear a lot of despair. At least from the people I talked to. “Israel is doomed…I do not know how long it will last…the situation is terrible…” Do they have reason to complain? Yes, they do.
Every few years, there is a war and people die, and there is no peace in sight with the Palestinians. And Israel finds itself increasingly isolated and demonized in the world. The income disparity in the country is one of the greatest among developing nations. The price of housing in Tel Aviv almost competes with the price of real estate in Manhattan. There is hardly any housing for rent.
So, yes, there is reason to complain.
But I have heard complaints in Israel each and every time I visit. Never in fifty years have I heard an Israeli telling me, “It is fine, we are ok.”
Never. Only complaints. Complaints about the government. Complaints about the economy. About the weather. About the neighbors. About the children. You name it.
That is what I hear, but if I open my eyes and look around, Israel is flourishing. The differences from year to year are incredible. Wherever I look, there are residential high rises and office buildings that can compete architecturally with the office buildings in Manhattan.
The restaurants are full. Looking at parking lots, I see no old cars. Only the new, best models. Their price, because of import taxes, is higher than a Rolls Royce in the United States. So imagine a parking lot filled with Rolls Royces or Maseratis.
True, this observation is based only on Tel Aviv, but taking a longitudinal view, the periphery is not doing badly either. I remember Dimona, a settlement in the Negev desert on the way to the Dead Sea, when most of the buildings were empty. The trip to Be’er Sheva used to take half a day. It is not true today. Dimona is a city, a fully functioning city. And it takes only one hour of driving to travel from Tel Aviv to Be’er Sheva, a beautiful city with a University of considerable stature. The Negev desert is populated and green patches are visible wherever one looks. And Eilat is like a Mexican Riviera. Five-star hotels everywhere, a marina with yachts not to be ashamed of. I remember Eilat as a place where I had to sleep on the beach in a sleeping bag because there was not one hotel to be found.
So where is this nagging complaining coming from?
From being Jewish, I believe.
It is called the Jewish mother syndrome. She does not ask you, “Please turn on the lights.” Instead she complains: “Ok, I will live in the dark for the rest of my life…”
But not only Jewish mothers complain; Jewish men as well.
I work worldwide with companies. And I have noticed a common difference between Jewish and non-Jewish owners of companies.
The Jewish clients are never happy. No matter how well the company is doing, they always look for what is wrong, what is missing.
And I, being Jewish, suffer from the same syndrome. Instead of showing gratitude and noticing what is good about my life, I focus on what I can complain about. I seem to feel at home only if I feel bad.
Unhappiness is the source of our energy. We strive to get some achievement that will earn us happiness. It is in our religion. It is called Tikkun Olam. To repair the world. Not to accept the world as it is. Not to accept life as it is; to improve life for the better.
While this unhappiness is the source of our achievements, it is the source of our misery too. We all know happiness is not the culmination of something achieved. It is being satisfied with what you have. It is an attitude marked by gratitude.
Granted, for an Israeli it is hard to be full with gratitude when you live in a state of continuous threat, not knowing where and when the next terrorist attack will come from. And two thousand years of persecution, rejection, and anti-Semitism, does not make for a nation marked by gratitude.
This continuous state of being frustrated, losing hope that there will ever be peace with the Palestinians, being in a state of tension and unhappiness, I believe, causes Israelis to be on the edge. Very tense and intense. They can erupt into violence over an issue that other cultures will deal with casually, without any loss of energy. Like asking someone to get in line and not to jump the line.
The place is flourishing all right. The standard of living is improving and is one of the highest in the world. But the level of happiness is low even though it is one of the greatest place in the world to live.
Just observing and thinking.
Ichak Kalderon Adizes