First the good things.
1) In the United States record lows had Northeasterners shivering in their boots and down coats this week, but Israelis were enjoying the balmy winter by going to the beach. Guests at the outdoor tables of a seaside café in Jaffa asked the waiter to put up the sun shade to protect them from the strong rays. Sailboats and yachts headed north and south, lightly clad walkers made tracks in the sand, and swimmers carved their way through the water.
2) Despite the long drought in Israel, Tel Aviv managed to produce a record crop in 2010… of media reviews. More than 200 journalists from the US, Britain, Germany, Holland, Sweden, Italy, Spain, and China visited the city that never stops, according to the daily Ha’aretz. The Lonely Planet declared Tel Aviv the third-best city to visit, National Geographic ranked it one of the ten best seaside cities, and Playboy, predictably, reported that the women are beautiful.
3) Another bumper crop in 2010 was medical tourism, according to Ha’aretz. Half of those visitors came from Russia and Ukraine and were undoubtedly happy to discover that so many hospital staffers, at all levels, are native-speakers of Russian. In March, Israeli doctors and hospital personnel will fly to Moscow to participate for the first time in an international conference on medical tourism.
These tourists put more than $55 million in the coffers of the country’s hospitals in 2010. But Israelis paid the price, forced to wait longer than ever for hospital treatment.
4) The light rail train is coming to Jerusalem! I’ve seen it coming down the track with my very own eyes. The trains set out on test runs every 15 minutes, carrying an assortment of sleepy workers. By summer they should be carrying paying customers.
Moribund Jaffa Road, tortured to death by the never-ending laying of the tracks, is showing signs of renewed life. All buses and cars have been rerouted to other streets, and Jaffa Road is now a pedestrian mall. One café already put tables and chairs out on the sidewalk, and others are sure to follow.
New buildings are going up everywhere, and old buildings are adding stories. It’s a heartwarming sight after years of agony, and there’s a touch of nostalgia for anyone who remembers the days when the only Saturday night excitement in Jerusalem was window shopping in the downtown triangle, with an ice cream cone or a bag of sunflower seeds in hand.
And now the bad part.
5) Comparison shopping can be injurious to your health. In Bnei Brak, a largely ultra-Orthodox city adjacent to Tel Aviv, the deputy manager of a branch of a large supermarket chain stepped into the neighboring competitor to check out the prices. When the competition’s staffers realized what he was doing, they ordered him to leave. He reportedly picked up a container of fabric softener and dashed it on the ground. He then called in his employees and, in the ensuing fracas between the staffers of the rival chains, he was allegedly threatened with a knife. The fists kept flying until the security guards fired warning shots in the air.
Text and photos copyright 2011 by Esther Hecht. No part of the text or photos may be used without written permission of the author.