Golden Arches

It was hard to believe at first, but the longer I blog, the more interesting people I meet through cyberspace, and among them, like minded souls, that often stir very real feelings of friendship and camaraderie. Occasionally, it is somewhat frustrating, because there isn’t enough time to read all of the good things out there. But having been a student all my life, I know the dangers of ‘big eyes’, and accept the fact that sometimes one has to choose… and better to go deep than to skim along the surface.

McDonald’s in downtown Jerusalem

Recently, a new found friend, George, published a haiku about the celestial pleasures of drinking coffee in McDonalds. Because it was truly beautiful, even though it was tongue in cheek, it launched me on a series of thoughts and memories. And foremost among them, were thoughts about how we look and looked at America through the years.

I know, every country sees themselves as the center of the world. I imagine that people in the most remote outposts of civilization… in Siberia for instance, look at a map in which their country is at the center, and all points are measured from there. That’s the way we are in Jerusalem too. But our prejudice has been reinforced time after time. For hundreds of years, in Europe too, there were maps showing Jerusalem as the center of the world, and nowadays, we don’t think that they call this ‘the middle east’ by accident. We think we’re right in the middle of everything. And I suppose because of that, regardless of the fact that we are a tiny nation, with barely enough room to throw a bit of litter out the window without it bouncing off a fellow human being, we often think that the perspective of the man in the middle is the most revealing, and that’s why we’re always anxious to voice our opinion on anything and everything. And if we don’t know all the facts… that will make us hesitant… but only for a few seconds. You know what they say about the Jews, two people get together for a cup of coffee, and you have three political parties represented.

You know, after WWII, in which a third of the Jewish people had been annihilated in the gas chambers of the Nazis, most of us were in a state of shock. Of course, a lot of people had been killed, and a lot of lives had been ruined. And I really wouldn’t want to make any comparisons. But the fact is, that we took it hard. There was that feeling, that a lot of people had left us to our fate… that the world hadn’t really cared. And even though Stalin had made a pact with Hitler before the war… and numerous other little facts that we weren’t unaware of, there were a lot of my countrymen who had more sympathy for the Russians than for the Americans, if just because the Russians had been the crueler in their conquest of the third Reich. It is hard to understand such things, if you weren’t here.

And when our little country was just slowly getting on its feet again, our very existence was being threatened every day. I don’t want to get into that. I really don’t. I’m just supplying a little background material. When Fidel Castro wanted to drink his ‘Cuba Libre’ without the Coca-Cola, we didn’t even know what it tasted like. We had seen it in movies that came from Hollywood, but we drank Tempo-cola, a locally produced drink that was an imitation, because the Arab league had a boycott going against us, and the Americans refused to sell us coke, because they didn’t want to anger the Arabs. You know, Arabs have very strong feelings, and what was even more important… there were a lot more of them than there were of us. Needless to say, there were no Big Macs to eat while you were slurping your Coke. I don’t know if this was the boycott at work, or ideology, or economics.

But ideology influenced a lot of our thinking for a long time, and having been colonized for hundreds of years, our sympathies were with those who were trying to throw off the shackles of imperialism… that is, until we would discover in many cases that the former colonies hated us too. It happened again and again. As the years went by, the narrative about Imperialism began to include cultural colonialism. Any of the forward thinking people had their backs up against McDonalds, long before we started worrying about the deleterious health effects of junk food. Jeans, Coke, and McDonald’s were followed by a long line of products that some people thought were designed to enslave the third world.

It is tempting to tell of my own travels, and what I found in different places, and especially my travels in the US and Mexico, and what I learned about democracy in those two very different countries. But bit by bit, I am sure you’ll get the taste from different posts, and some I have already related. What I wanted to tell, was about how we withstood cultural enslavement here in the holy land. As we started producing technological products, and played a more active role in the international marketplace, the boycott against us started losing its grip. After all, when you buy modern medicinal inventions from our country, it seems silly to refuse to sell us a coke. And little by little, our citizens were able to buy all the junk that was already flooding Europe.


The copy-cat products disappeared completely. Seeing one of them these days, brings on a flood of nostalgia. But by the time the big fads hit us, there were already a lot of people who were very satisfied with local products, healthy fruit and vegetables. Of course every breathing biped among us carries a cell phone, and just about every lap cradles a lap top… and I suppose that is how it should be. But it seems that despite the adversity, and despite a great longing for the ‘American way of life’ as we see it in movies and on the TV, Israel has developed a life style similar to Europe and the US, but still intrinsically its own. And you can buy a hamburger at McDonalds, but there are finer hamburger eateries in Jerusalem. It’s up to you… and to your pocket to decide. Coffee is very popular here since the time of the Turks. And there are many styles to choose from. And yes, we have those new fangled machines here that wear out your jeans before you put them on for the first time, so you won’t look like a Hick who just got jeans for his birthday. Yes, we’re modern… and in the swing of things.


27 responses to “Golden Arches

  1. I feel what you live in is a mosaic of cultures, invention, expression, interpretation, creativity, ways of seeing, ways of being, ways of surviving. When I visited what struck me the most was the interaction–the determination of everyone to be socially involved, and to make things work by not ignoring problems and challenges, but by confronting them–and I mean confronting them–daily. In Israel there’s no time to sit around wishing and hoping. If there’s to be a future, things need to be faced, and faced in the moment. I had a sense that nothing was wasted, particularly time. There was an urgency, but a relaxed urgency. And it was an in-your-face socializing, yes, but an overwhelming and refreshing and pervasive socializing, and an overarching sense that CORPORATIONS didn’t run Israel, THE PEOPLE ran Israel. Sure there was advertising, Sure there were products. But Israelis were in charge–not Pepsi. Not Chevrolet. Not KFC. And I loved getting a falafel and buying something from someone who made what I was buying, or whose sister made it. And thank god there are still places like this in the world where deserts are turned into gardens without being run by a not-so-Jolly Green Giant.

    • Thank you so much, Lance for your comment. As I was writing, I wanted to tell a bit about the differences between reputation and reality as I discovered it when traveling in America… but felt limited by space… and didn’t want to weigh too heavily on the reader. But in your words, I understood what an advantage it is to see things for one’s self… though even then, we sometimes have to overcome prejudice. Then again, we often have prejudices even about what we know intimately. It’s a complicated business. But it was a joy to read your impressions.

  2. Wow, that’s truly a fascinating and insightful post – I enjoyed reading it – thank you.

    It actually brought back a childhood memory of school in England. There was an educational Geography show that had a unique title sequence. It started in a school playground and then zoomed up and out, revealing England and then the rest of the world.

    But what confused me was that England was at the centre – as though it were on the equator lol. Quite confusing for a geography show aimed at the under tens, but now I’m wondering if there wasn’t some other reason for it!

    • Yes, not only people are egocentric; nations and peoples too. That is why people were once so sure that the sun encircled the earth. But as we grow older, we learn to appreciate simplicity… Thank you very much for your comment.

  3. Ah, my forgiving friend, Shimon. What a salve and a refuge you are for me. I have so much to learn from you. I wondered how you would manage to avoid presenting yet another garish photograph of those damnable arches. Now, I am scolding myself for such a thought.

    I knew nothing of the Holocaust as a young woman. Schindler’s List gave me my first nudge. Since then, I have read every account I could get my hands on about that time. When I came here, I left Irena Sendler in the middle of a Warsaw ghetto. Historical fact does not interest me except as a bookmark. I want to understand how real people lived in the time of it. I have not yet worked my way through to Israel. I know virtually nothing about Israel. You gave me the kind of view of her here that I can appreciate and understand.

    You reminded me of a concept I had either forgotten or never clearly formulated. “…we often think that the perspective of the man in the middle is the most revealing”. Nowhere is that a more accurate description of a society than in the United States. Sadly.

    You gave me another phrase: “Cultural Colonialism”…one phrase to save a thousand words. Your description of the Israeli resistance informed my understanding of that resistance elsewhere in the world.

    Fareed Zackaria is teaching me about the world and about the role of the U.S. in it. He is responsible for articulating my untutored world view. I am grateful to him too.

    How could I have live so long and so blindly?

    Thank you, Shimon.

    • I am so pleased, George, that you found the post interesting. And grateful that my thoughts and views of the arches didn’t bore you. We all have to follow our interest, and our thirst for understanding… wherever it takes us. But how I wish that I could tell you, just forget about the Holocaust… it is part of the whole, and there is more history than we will ever manage to swallow… and still more of the same that is happening now. Personally, I have had enough of that subject, even though my own life was terribly affected by that chapter in history. I am happy for you that you have found people, like Zackaria, who are able to point out a few interesting sights… open some windows at times… I am most grateful to those I learned from, and those who pointed out a few important things, that enabled me to go on and learn and learn. Thank you for your comment, and for your poem which inspired this post, and for being here… because it’s so much fun getting to know you.

  4. It is always so nice to read you dear Shimon… I don’t know so much about Israel, especially today’s Israel… You know, there are so many Turkish people in my country who are jewish. When my son was a baby, his doctor was a jewish. He is so nice one. And when we got married with my husband, our first home was in an apartment which our neighbours were Jewish, Greek and Armenian… I know, it is same for you too in there, to live in this mozaic of different cultures… Actually this makes us rich… My husband grew up among all these different cultures… And I can see him how rich with all his experiences and knowledge… every people is a great story and we all learn something from each other. On the other hand, I hate politics… Actually I hate what seperates people… So, art, music, sport, and nature world, these are my subjects and my life… Even I don’t read newspapers too. 🙂 About Mc Donald…. Ah, it is forbidden to me to eat fast food… It’s been more than one year, I don’t eay any fast food… 🙂 But how I miss to eat an hamburger… I am so glad to hear that you have met with dear George, she is amazing and beautiful lady… I am in my humble life alone but at my desk, how nice I have so many friends… Thank you dear Shimon, and sorry if I make mistakes with my language 🙂 With my love, nia

    • I am very glad, Nia, that you enjoy reading my blog. Yes, I know that there are many Jews in Turkey, and I also have read quite a bit about Turkey from Jews who lived their at different times, and wrote about their views and their experiences. I myself have never been there. And yes, we live among different cultures too, and I have always found much in common with people from different cultures, and much to learn from them, and much to love in them. When I was a young man, I shared an apartment, here in Jerusalem, with a young Arab artist, and we were best of friends. I can understand why you hate politics. It is a very uncomfortable necessity of life. And I can understand why you don’t read newspapers. My two daughters don’t read newspapers either. And I can’t say that it’s a great enjoyment for me. Please don’t apologize for your use of English. I find your language most charming, and understand you easily. I am sorry that you miss hamburgers. Maybe just one in a great while…? With best wishes to you Nia.

      • I am glad to hear that I am not alone about newspapers… But do you know what made me like that, …..? Politicians!!!! and Crazy Media… Dear Shimon, as always you are so nice, Thank you so much, for your encouragement, and I can say, I love this language so much… I can talk about this for days… Thank you. Have a nice day, with my love, nia

    • No, I don’t agree with you, Nia. I don’t think that it is the politicians fault that the newspapers are the way they are… at least not in my country… I have many criticisms of the politicians, but the newspapers are a different issue. I have two issues with them. For one, they always try to attract our attention, so they blow things out of proportion, and scream at the passer by as if it was always an emergency… and secondly, instead of just reporting the news and analyzing situations and events, they try to reform the world according to their own ideology… and often according to the ideology of those who work for them. And then we are subjected to the rantings of the self-righteous. It is often hard to take.

      • Dear Shimon, I talk according to the reality in these days of my country. Just know this, because I don’t want to talk more about this, otherwise it will be almost political talking and you know, I hate. But the reason for me what I said, it is true… Thank you, with my love, nia

  5. Love what you write about “cultural enslavement”. That’s such an evocative phrase and covers so much ground. I’m so glad that Israel has maintained such a strong identity.

    • Glad you enjoyed the post, Jordan. Of course, there is a smile on my lips when I mention “cultural enslavement”… because we do have choice. But we humans are also a herd animal, and easily influenced by the majority. I am glad to be part of a very stubborn people… though there are disadvantages to that too.

  6. I love Lance’s comment. I would love one day to visit your wonderful homeland. Cultural enslavement has a strong grasp once it is spread over a people. My friend stayed in Gaza for a time and said it was the most friendly place he was ever stationed.

    Great post!!!

    There was a Jewish man in my hometown that was found to have donated over $20,000,000 to area charities without even his wife knowing after he passed away. My dad was larger than most at the time and shoes were hard to find in his size but the boutique owner would always have shoes and clothes special ordered for him. It is amazing how this man’s name continues to influence our little town.

    • You mention some very interesting things here. The man who gave a lot of charity anonymously… I’ve known some men like that. And the boutique owner; I can understand him well. But your friend who said that Gaza was the friendliest place he’s ever been… I don’t know about that. It makes me wonder how well he knew Gaza, and what his role was there. The Arabs are warm people. And famous for their hospitality. That is a trait common to both the Jews and the Arabs, and we got it from our common grandfather, but I think the Arabs are often better than us in that regard. But the Arabs also have a rather cruel streak. I am speaking as a culture, and not about individuals. As Individuals you can find many saintly people. But as a people, they are cruel to children, to dogs, to cripples, and to women. This is not the place for long stories, but if you read up on ‘honor killing’, you’ll understand what I’m talking about. I have seen terrible cruelty of the Arabs towards their own people… and also towards enemies, if they thought they were weak.

  7. Another good read, it’s interesting how countries absorb or reject cultures whether it is architceture, food, or language etc.and how it shapes the countries and their people.
    I also like the reference to the “middle east”, not something that I’d given much thought to before, sometimes I wonder if my “lights” are on !

    • Your lights are on, Claire… I see them all the way here. But it’s true for all of us… we get used to certain phrases, and to certain connections… and go along with a lot without always examining things… sometimes it’s good to stop, and re-examine what we’ve gotten used to.

  8. A fascinating post. I am from Canada, and we are very much intwined with the American culture. I view Israel as the centre of the world, I am Christian and as a Christian we are told in the Bible to pray for the peace in Jerusalem. I am so enjoying learning about your views through this blog. You are opening my mind to another world and another view of this wonderful world.

    • I’m so glad you like the blog Maggie. I visited your country many years ago… mostly in the west, and was very impressed. I didn’t get the impression that Canada was that much like the US, but this was almost fifty years ago, and as a foreigner, I’m sure I missed more than what I learned. Still, I am always happy to hear that people are praying for peace in Jerusalem, and always happy to learn the ways and the thoughts of other people. It is a great pleasure meeting you.

  9. I enjoy hearing your thoughts, ShimonZ. I’m not a big fan of the culture America is exporting and I hate to see people in other countries turning away from local food to eat McDonald’s version of food.

    Living in another country and/or traveling to other countries helps give us perspective. Blogging helps too. I’m glad I found your blog.

    • Thank you so much for your comment, year-stricken. I think we sometimes over react to the gross, the childish, and the piggish natures of man… what’s important, it seems to me, is to keep it on a leash. I’m so glad you enjoy my posts, because I do love your writing too.

  10. Great post. Glad to have stumbled upon this blog!

  11. ” it is somewhat frustrating, because there isn’t enough time to read all of the good things out there” – this is so true!

  12. Thank you for your reply Shimon. About all I can say about my friend is that he spoke of how the Jewish people always welcomed him into their homes but I don’t know much about Gaza, so perhaps there are not many Jewish people there.

    • Now that you mention that, I realize that your friend could have been serving there when there were still Jews around. In one of the most outrageous deals ever engineered by an Israeli prime minister, Arik Sharon, who was thought of as a right wing war monger, agreed to give the entire Gaza strip to the Arabs to buy peace from them. This was in 2005. Previously to that it had been a mixed population in Gaza, and Jews had lived there for hundreds of years. Since then, only Arabs live there, and they regularly send rockets to hit our civilian population. Just these days, there are constant rocket attacks, and about a million people have to go into bomb shelters a number of times each day. But again, it could be that he met Arabs, and was impressed by their good qualities… which are there… It’s just that we see another side too.

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