Thursday, June 23, 2011

A conversation with the people of Tel Aviv

Walking down Rothschild Boulevard, a wide promenade lined with palm trees and the sandy concrete facades of Bahaus architecture, we set out to meet the people of Tel Aviv.

Charged with asking questions of locals, our first encounter was with an older Russian man who left a Moscow he hated to arrive in a city he didn't like much better. While we couldn't understand his words, that didn't stop him from sharing his discontent.

The next stranger we spoke with wasn't much happier than our Russian friend, although he was less animated about his grievances. He moved to Tel Aviv from a small town when he was old enough to enjoy city life, but now the allure had faded. "The nightlife, it isn't real," he said, looking beyond the smoke of his cigarette. "It's a fiction." The atmosphere of Israel at least-- being able to sit on a bench and talk to people like us, for example-- still pleased him. He recently quit his job in copy writing and is taking time to "search himself."

Our final meeting was with a young Muslim man from Russia who worked at a snack stand. As we approached, he invited us to sit with him and eat his food. He seemed to shimmy as he smiled, in spite of the fact that he worked 15 hour days all week and didn't feel welcome in the Jewish state. The social stigma against religious inter-marriage he found in Israel was foreign to his experience in Russia and with the marriages in his own family. The best thing about Israel? He searched to find an answer: the weather.

Other members of our Birthright group met a chemical engineer, an El Al flight attendant, a physicist, an economist, the director of an English academy, and the CEO of an internet startup, among others.

As a cosmopolitan metropolis in the ancient holy land, Tel Aviv is home to a diverse and vibrant people.

-Sam Wishman (C'10)

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