By Dave Halperin
Illustration by Cody Angell
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Monday January 27, 2003
Editors' Note: This column is the first of a series of commentaries highlighting the experiences of an international exchange student in Israel.
"What? You're crazy! You know that, right?" This was the common first reaction when I told friends I would be leaving Tucson to study for a semester in Tel Aviv, a city targeted by a suicide bomber only one week before I arrived, and a place many believe can be seen by the sights of any weapons that Saddam Hussein may deploy in the pending U.S. war with Iraq. So what the hell am I doing here? What made me decide to come here, at this time, and type papers from a bomb shelter converted into a computer lab, rather than the "safe" confines of the Integrated Learning Center? This is exactly what the young El Al Israel Airlines security officer was determined to find out as I approached the ticket counter in New York.
Why are you coming to Israel?
÷ To study at Tel Aviv University.
What do you study?
÷ I'm a political science and Judaic studies double major, I hope to learn more about the conflict and the Israeli people.
÷ Because I find it interesting.
÷ Oh, I see. Well, I was raised Jewish.
What was the last holiday?
÷ I'm pretty sure that would be Hanukkah.
What did you do on Hanukkah?
÷ Uh, well, we had a big Hanukkah party with the family. It was great.
But what did you do on Hanukkah?
÷ Oh, I see. We lit candles.
÷ Eight, one each night ·
What was on your table?
What was on your table, you know, to eat?
÷ Oh, latkes, you know, potato pancakes. I like them with applesauce and sour cream, it's really good.
Thank you, pull your bags forward, please.
Ah yes, latkes, the key to national security. Of course I, as well as the other passengers, I'm sure, were happy to tell the El Al security attendants anything they wanted to know about them, latkes included. It's the same reason why people here don't mind being screened for weapons by a magnetic wand when entering the nearby shopping mall, with its three security guards looking on at every entrance. And it's the same reason people here don't mind opening their bags for the security guard every time they come to the single entrance of the dormitory complex that is my temporary home. But it's not fear anymore that makes them accept this life, it's simply routine. After all, this is Israel.
Sure, some people are too afraid to ride buses. I even admit last week I decided at the last minute to hail a taxi instead of taking a bus. And sure, every day the newspaper tells of more deaths from both sides, and more pessimistic predictions. There is no doubt this is a society wrought with controversy, contradictions, conflict, anguish and fear. But sometimes between hanging out in a packed club in Tel Aviv, sharing a taxi with a young Arab woman, and watching Pokemon with my 5-year-old distant cousin, I realized something that the media in the States seem to ignore · people are living here.
So why did I decide to come to Tel Aviv? Well, I can repeat my routine answers that "I'm a political science and Judaic Studies double major, and there is no better time to study the conflict," or "If I want to study this conflict I have to experience the life," or blah, blah, blah. I'm tired of these answers, though they are true. I'm here not because I want to study a society in fear, but a society living with it.
OK, so maybe I am a little crazy.
David Halperin is UA political science and Judaic studies senior studying at Tel Aviv University this semester.