"Israel 2008" story # 18

Netanya, Israel           November 24, 2008

Liyel, my mop-headed co-worker, didn't practice the rites of Judaism stictly. But, most of his loved ones in Tzfat were religious, and so he didn't deny this religion outright. A pacifist and a magician, his belief in the Jewish God was one of curiosity and optimism.
     During the last of the days we worked together as landscapers, he used his burly strength to assume much of the work I should've done. He knew the work-weeks had asked too much of me. He really cared about me.
     Meanwhile, Ohad knelt in the new grass we were planting, and told me about his version of Judaism. It was the version of a positive-thinking, smiling, hugging guy who wore a white, wool kippa hat. Seldom did you come across a guy in a kippa hat whom you immediately liked, but Ohad was one. He told me the Jewish people were chosen by God to follow a new discipline He was handing down.
     I walked then to buy us a cold bottle of water with which to combat the cooking November sun. I thought. Then smiled. I finally had a better understanding of Judaism's influence on Israeli society!
     I recalled Ohad's words:
     "The Jewish people were chosen by God to follow a new discipline He was handing down."
     I thought of Ohad, who'd experienced the egalitarian spirit and brotherly love of Australia, and who now welcomed everyone warmly. I thought of my friend Ran Dor in Tel Aviv, a newly religious guy who thought the goal in life was "selfless love."
     But, I mainly thought about serious and unforgiving men in suits and beards, about stressed-out guys in kippa hats counting their fortunes all day long, about girls who'll analyze a guy's mating potential but probably not befriend him.
     And I recalled Fyodor Dostoyevsky's words, in "The Brothers Karamazov", a novel about religion:
     "Oh hell, what would I do to that man who first thought up God! To hang him from the bitter aspen tree wouldn't be enough."
     The Jews believe God chose them to follow a new discipline. I like to believe it calls on them to follow a higher spirituality which, if achieved, would benefit all humanity. Some young, bright-eyed students of the Torah may believe this, too.
     But, the Jews - like any race of people - are made up of strong and weak people. Weak people lack the strength to carry humanity, or they lack the insight to see it benefits them to help others. They'd say: "Why should I follow a higher discipline? What's in it for me!? I'll only agree if God places me above those whom he hasn't chosen."
     And they give birth to the fallacy that Jews - or, in some people's minds, only the very religious - are "special", "better than others", "more human". Thus, the first word I would use to describe religious Israelis is: "spoiled".
     And much of family-prioritizing Israel has the money to buy its children consumer goods and clothing that promote being "cool", while forgetting to educate them to take interest in the world around them. People become: "self-obsessed". Girls and men want society to acknowledge they're flawless and special, too. They're terrified of being forgotten after they die.
     Burdened with heavy ego's that crave success, descended from a disciplined religion, they're very: "practical". They have little time for fun diversions or for relationships that don't provide them with something concrete. They don't succumb to alcoholism or overeating. They work toward their goals, with all the energy they have.
     Thus, they're also quite: "successful". Israel's architecture and landscaping, for example, are spectacular. Midnight-purple skyscrapers in Tel Aviv tower with webbed, pointed awnings on each story, like something from The Forbidden City; and palm trees and rock fountains make apartment complexes look like paradisical dwellings.
     An American Jew who'd traveled to Iran while young informed me that the Persian Jews had, at that time, control over the turquoise trade; he continued on to Kabul, where the small, local Jewish population controled the fur trade. But, ambitious people are also often tired and: "unhappy."
     Can this same list of traits be applied to unreligious Israelis, who refuse to submit to His will, who don't believe a God would've given us life unless we were meant to be harmoniously free?
     I think it can be applied, on a general level. The imperial Kibbutz Naan kicked me off their large and empty territory, when I wanted to write beneath their lights. Single girls wear sexy shoes and outfits to make guys want them, but they have little concern for the guys. And guys - not only the ones in kippa hats - are hurried, focused on their business.
     It's difficult for the unreligious to stray from popular psychology, because the clawing society strangles them. I feel like, if a person isn't willing to give up his freedom and follow beaurocracy and get exploited and be overworked, he'll suffer.
     Of course, there are those who stray. And progressive-minded Israelis are exceptionally good at being progressive. The socialist kibbutz movement of the mid-1900's was revolutionary, and still persists in places. Nowadays, democratic schools believe their children can decide when to go to class, and when to work on socializing skills. And young, unreligious guys - such as strong, gentle-eyed Itamar, who loves cycling, who bought four stories from me in Tel Aviv - are welcoming.
     Discipline and spirituality can be good things, too. I base mine on humanity; not on a God whose power makes me feel insecure in mine.
     Hopefully, Israel will remember the Torah teaches humility, and not that Judaism - according to a bespectacled lad in Jerusalem - promises its followers "success in business and a beautiful wife," or that - somewhere in Genesis - God tells Abraham "the uncircumsized man ... shall be cut off from his people."
     I'll leave my faith in Ohad, in Ran Dor, and in this prophecy:

"Some day, humanity will free itself from God completely (and I believe this period ... will come), that all by themself, without being pushed, all past ideologies and, most importantly, all past morality will crumble, and new ones will arise in their place." - Dostoyevsky

peace, Modern Oddyseus

go to the previous story                                                                                   go to the next story

J. Breen's modern-o.com