Thursday, April 10, 2014

Tel Aviv - The Complex City

Aviva Kraus is a current 5-month participant from Los Angeles. As a participant on the Social Action Track, she is volunteering at LATET, the HaTikvah Elderly Center, the Lone Soldier Center, Bat Yam Urban Farm, and the SPCA.  Here she gives her take on life in Tel Aviv. 

Kiryat Shalom is an intriguing mix of Bukharan Jews, from Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, and asylum-seekers and migrant workers from Eritrea, Sudan, and the Philippines. Our next-door neighbors have a big family with lots of kids and a grumpy cat. I am almost always aware of their presence, due to amazing smells coming from their kitchen, a bickering husband and wife, crying children, or a meowing cat. Our downstairs neighbors have big Shabbat dinners every Friday night, which they spend the whole day preparing for. My favorite neighbor is a very friendly little old man with a powder blue motorcycle and sidecar who rides around all day and waves to us when he sees us walking around town. He doesn’t speak a lick of English, but we often “Ha Kol B’seder?” each other when we pass in the hall. The apartment is definitely not glamorous, but I’ve been pretty happy here. I love my room. I put up a couple posters and have a big bed. My roommates love my room, too, which makes me happy. We often hang out on my bed and congregate in there to make plans or get ready to go out in the evenings.  There’s a window right over my bed that I open as soon as I wake up every morning, giving me a chance to hear the weird call of our resident owl and let the sunshine in. I also have a beautiful view of the sunset through some palm trees if I happen to be in my room around 6pm.

Israel is so complex. Seriously, nothing is simple here. There are all the big international political issues, but there are also just a whole host of internal social, political and economic problems, much like any country has. But I think some of them are unique to Israel in that it is one of the most welcoming/modern/accessible countries in the Middle East. Israel, much like America, is a country mostly made up of immigrants. In multiple waves, people have come here from different places and developed different perceptions of what Israel is or should be. Sometimes Israel feels like a huge mess of wires or necklace chains that are crissed crossed looped and twisted around each other, completely intertwined yet never really seeming to connect fully in any places from beginning to end. Does that make any sense? That being said, I have never really felt that out of place in Tel Aviv, because there isn’t really an in place here.
Yesterday I was walking to Shuk HaCarmel with two of my roommates and we came upon a man who was lying on his side, seemingly choking and flailing around. With a panicked look in his eyes, he attempted to claw at his face. No one was helping, though one woman was calling an ambulance and a couple others were standing in shock. Then, the arab shopkeeper in front of whose shop this seizing man was laying bent down and lifted the man’s head so it was propped on a mound of plastic bags. An ashkenazi woman knelt down to communicate with the man, and helped the first man maneuver a bottle cap into the man’s mouth so he didn’t bite his tongue or lip. She handed me the leash to her dog, who kept trying to jump on her owner’s thigh with panicked squeals. A black woman hovered over them both, muttering suggestions every so often. Other than holding back the barking spitfire, I tried to help - especially since I had come upon a man in Los Angeles a few months ago who was also mid-seizure. I was able to help a little bit back then, but because I don’t yet speak good enough Hebrew, there was not much I could do yesterday. I looked the man in the eyes a few times and told him, using my limited Hebrew, that it would be okay and that someone was coming. I did the same in English, and I asked around to make sure someone had called and would stay with him before I walked away. But because I couldn’t verbally communicate, I was pretty unhelpful. Maybe I’m reading too much into the situation, but I realized that despite the fact that all three of these altruistic individuals probably had vastly different backgrounds and potentially held different political and/or religious beliefs, they were all still connected, and able to work together to help save this epileptic man who was lying, helpless on the ground.
Anyway, I think it’s impossible not to read complexity into theoretically simple moments when you’re living in Tel Aviv- impossible not to think about things like race, religion, politics, gender, health care, culture clash, immigration, or poverty. Unless one is purposefully staying eyes closed ears covered, and even then it’s difficult. From the homeless Russian immigrants without medical insurance who pick at their bleeding, swollen legs while begging for change outside the central bus station, to the thousands of black asylum seekers who can’t gain employment because they are not yet technically “refugees” and whose backstories I can only imagine, to the Jewish Israelis like Sarit, who works at the grocery store by my house and whose older son just joined the IDF last week, there is so much. It’s overwhelming and intriguing. But, like Sarit told me when I asked her whether she was afraid for her son, “That’s just part of life here.”
(I took this picture down the street from my apartment. The graffiti says “whoever doesn’t reuse or recycle is crazy…”)


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