Day 15

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My last day in Israel began with a trip to Banana Beach, and from there, I walked along the Mediterranean coast to Jaffa. I am not a huge lover of beaches, but even I was impressed with Israel’s coastline. The waves are too rough for languorous swimming, but the water is perfectly warm and cool at the same time, a vast shift from LA’s chilly ocean temperatures. You can easily do what I did: sit down near the edge of the waves and let the water and sand roll over you, recede, then repeat. Accompanying sunburn not recommended.

I wish I had more to say about Jaffa, but I did not explore the old city as much as I’d have liked. The new areas are hip and trendy, and wildly overpriced. I saw more British and French tourists in Jaffa than in any other part of Israel. There are many antique furniture shops and wonderful boutique clothing stores selling items made by local Israeli designers. When I am a wealthy woman, I will return, but for now, the streets of Jaffa are too rich for my blood.

My new Israeli friend, N., met me in Jaffa for a late lunch. She was surprised I hadn’t heard the sirens in Tel Aviv the night before. She had been at home in Holon, a suburb of Tel Aviv, and she had packed herself and her younger brother into their safe room.

That’s right, most modern Israeli homes are built with a safe room, meant to withstand home invasion or aerial attacks. N. drove me back to her family’s beautiful, spacious apartment in Holon and I saw the room for myself. Before this trip, I would have found it inconceivable that a country exists where people build bomb shelters into all their new residential architecture. Do they really want to kill us all that badly?

The answer is, as usual, a complicated “no” and a complicated “yes.” But it is a bit unsettling to think that these are the basic measures of everyday life that make people feel safer. I feel safer locking the exterior doors at night. N. feels safer knowing that she can sit with her brother in their safe room during a rocket attack.

That is a hard reality and a valid perspective for me to encounter. I never once felt unsafe in Israel, even after I became a solo female traveler. Is it because there was no immediate threat to my own security, or was it because of the safe rooms, the sirens, the strong, good-looking IDF soldiers around every corner?

I think it must toughen up children to grow up like this. Instead of learning that the world is their oyster, they learn to make their own advantages in an environment where stability is no guarantee. Maybe the Israelis grow up tough, and that can be a good thing, but the flipside is all those children in Gaza who will grow up traumatized, fearful of life. A constant assumption of danger, or the potential for it, seems like a difficult way to come of age.

Then again, maybe we soft Americans aren’t looking hard enough. As the surge in global anti-Semitism continues, I find myself thinking that maybe the Israelis do have a point. Lately it is becoming more difficult to remind myself that it is an unsustainable worldview. Better to do nothing, and “pray for peace,” as I was told many times on this trip. But prayer isn’t going to get children out of safe rooms and into art museums. And I think, metaphorically-speaking, that is a greater goal.

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