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.
Recently, a new found friend, George, published a haiku about the celestial pleasures of drinking coffee in McDonalds. http://gweaverii.me/2012/02/25/blind-squirrel-haiku-ey/ 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.