Roger L. Simon

Blogging from Tel Aviv — The Pursuit of the Normal

In case you didn’t know it, Tel Aviv can get hot. I was sitting in the courtyard of this place called Sonya’s, having lunch with the Rubin family, when the sun moved around to my side of the table and in a few minutes I felt as if I were Peter O’Toole in Lawrence of Arabia in those scenes where he was limping across the desert like a scorched rat. And I’m from L.A., where once in a while — during Santa Ana winds — it can get a bit warm.

So I have learned in a few days here not to be a mad dog or an Englishman and go out in the noonday sun. Many of the locals clearly follow suit, making this a terrific night city, which is fine by me because I don’t know what time it is anyway. I am up at 4:30 a.m. jogging on the beach front. It’s an interesting experience because you get to see the action at various hours.

One commenter on my previous post noted that I should look for a surprising comity between Jews and Arabs. That was evident last night when we walked over to Jaffa, the old largely Arab port, for dinner and saw both groups mingling casually. The Arab women had some pretty exotic and trendy head scarves, but they’re living in the city recently branded number one in the world for “gay travelers.” You get some pretty amusing culture clashes, even some sense of live and let live. (I hope I’m not projecting on that. Perhaps some Israelis reading this will chime in.)

What strikes me most of all is the pursuit of normalcy here. Syria may be disintegrating, Hezbollah may be out for Jewish, Sunni, or whatever blood, Al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood may be on the loose from Mali to Egypt, even Turkey now has demonstrations, but the people of Tel Aviv want a normal life. Who wouldn’t?

We went swimming yesterday surrounded by local families jamming the beach on shabbat. By the way, in case you didn’t know it, I am a bad (and impatient) Jew. I am on the 21st floor of our hotel and will not use the sabbath elevator that stops on every floor so you don’t have to disobey the injunction against work and push a button. I use the regular elevator and push away. If this means I will pay for this in the afterlife, so be it. You will note, however, I didn’t blog on the sabbath.

Speaking of the noonday sun, we did walk around a bit in it yesterday with the Rubins, who have been most gracious, having a look at the art deco White City, Rothschild Boulevard, the arts complex that now houses the old Habima Theatre, and then finally Kikar Rabin, Rabin Square, where the prime minister was assassinated by a Jewish extremist at the height of Oslo hopes.

They have a low-key, therefore quite moving, memorial to the tragedy on the actual site of the murder — a nondescript concrete stairway — that gives the exact locations of the killer and Rabin’s bodyguards when the event occurred. Though no one can be sure, I am not one of those who thinks we would have had peace had he lived. I remain unconvinced the Palestinians want a two-state solution. And I don’t think any one man could change that, certainly no one on the Israeli side. But Rabin was clearly a remarkable human being. You feel his loss acutely at the place of his death.

(Thumbnail on PJM homepage assembled from multiple images.)