May 31, 2018 – Contemporary Culture

After spending several days looking at the challenges that Israel faces, today we took a look at contemporary Israeli culture.  As long as that will be our topic, I must confess that one of the major changes that has occurred within Israeli society since my first trip here in the 1984 is the cuisine.  Today, I will compare Israeli restaurants to any in the world.  The only problem is that it is killing my diet.  

Our day started with a lecture by Dr. Rachel Korazim, and expert in Israeli literature.  She presented a history of Zionism as expressed through poetry and song.  From wishful thinking to songs of pride and criticism, the evolution of Zionism is remarkable.  As well the space in which we met Dr. Korazim, called Mindspace, was equally revealing about the current state of Israeli culture.  It is shared workspace for artists and offices ,complete with a contemporary styled auditorium.

We then joined a new Israeli celebrity street artist and Tel Aviv local, Niro Taub.  He brought us to an understanding of “graffiti” as a form of popular expression and protest.  In response to social changes like gentrification, street art has been becoming an increasingly popular mode of artistic expression and counter cultural commentary throughout Israel.  In Tel Aviv, the municipal government granted permission for artists to paint buildings that were approved for demolition in the name of urban renewal.  The result has been neighborhoods of rich and vibrant art, which expresses a variety of social and political opinion.  On one level it is a shame that this cultural commentary will be destroyed as the neighborhoods change, but that is part of the point.

With a few intrepid friends, I led us on a forced march to visit some very local sites for lunch. First was Abu Hassan’s hummus house. A well-established local dive, where a smear of hummus and pita for lunch has be raised to an artform.  From the Arab plasterer working down the street to the young mother meeting a friend, to the hipster gentrifying this changing neighborhood, people find a seat at a shared table and dive into one of three offerings: hummus, spicy hummus, or hummus with ful (fava beans). For less than the cost of a Happy Meal, we were in heaven, and they even threw in a T-shirt for the crazy tourists. On the walk back to our final stop for the day, we visited Abu Lafia, an old style brick oven bakery, serving both the Arab and Jewish communities since well before I ever visited Israel.  

Our final stop for the day was at the Ruth Daniel Residence, a simple hotel which is part of Beit Daniel, the largest Reform synagogue in Tel Aviv.  Despite initial difficulties overcoming cultural and religious bias in the ‘90s, Beit Daniel has become an integral part of the Tel Aviv cultural landscape: 300 weddings, 200 conversions, and 210 b’nai mitzvah this year alone.  As well, 2000 people participated in some form of their Tikkun Leil Shavuot, an all night study session to observe the holiday, according to Rabbi Meir Azari, who currently serves this community.  

Utilizing a meeting room at the Daniel Center, we met with Miri Eisen, a retired Colonel in the intelligence service of the Israeli Defense Force, for a “security briefing.” She did a brilliant job of placing the security challenges that confront Israel within the context of the Middle East. 

The final session of the day was with Natalie Marcus and Asaf Beizer, creators and head writers of “Yehudim Baim” meaning the Jews are coming, a sketch comedy program which satires Jewish and Israeli history on Israeli public television. This raucous adult television program is available on YouTube with subtitles, and despite some choice language, I highly recommend it.  

This day served as a great reminder that despite the real challenges faced by Israel, it is a wonderful country that continues to grow and change.  With our help and support, Israel has a bright future.

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