A country to live, not to vacation
Police car lights always blink here, no matter if they’re speeding to an intervention or just cruising. Electrical bikes and scooters rule the streets and sidewalks. Cats are everywhere, but oddly no stray dogs. And the Tel Aviv climate in April feels lovely, damp and warm. So much is obvious, but what else is there about the country?
If you’re looking for a religious experience, the country has obvious appeal—whether you’re Jewish, Christian or Muslim. Throngs of pilgrims come to Israel at all times of the year, mostly to Jerusalem, excited to walk in the footsteps of their prophets. It’s such a common motive for coming that many of our acquaintances assumed we were traveling for religious reasons when we told them of our plans to visit Israel.
On the other hand, if you’re looking for historical and cultural sights, well, it’s like every other place that’s been witness to ancient events. There are ruins aplenty and they’re what you expect them to be—stones all over the place, some scattered, some organized. I know many people who nonetheless get excited with such settings, though personally we don’t.
Israel is also not your typical Middle-Eastern place. Some neighborhoods do have this feel of desert settlements, like Jaffa with its narrow cobblestone streets and low, sun-scorched houses. But most of what stands today was built in the last century, by immigrants arriving from Europe, who brought their own culture. This means, you won’t see a lot of difference when coming from the old continent—much of the same styles and order. There’s a distinct gap in architecture between the ancient times and today, almost as if nobody lived here after the Romans left and before settlers arrived in the late 19th century.
The country’s focus has been quality of life (and security, but more on that in a second). I wrote about the conveniences of Tel Aviv earlier, with its beautiful beach, abundant public spaces and delicious cuisine. Infrastructure is well maintained, streets are generally clean, public services are reliable. It’s comfortable to live here and I can easily understand why people of Jewish heritage continue to move in.
There are two downsides to living here, and both have to do with the country’s status in the region. One is obviously the security aspect—there’s always the possibility of a terrorist attack, mortar shells falling or an outright war. Israel has been very successful in defending itself ever since its founding, and they continue to stay on the ball. Security measures are clearly present, but were never particularly troublesome anywhere we went.
But Israel only has, somewhat weak, peace treaties with Jordan and Egypt, while it’s all unstable to the north (and in all of Palestinian territories). This means one cannot just hop in their car and keep riding, like we could from Warsaw to Portugal, visiting friendly neighbors on the way. If you want to go anywhere, the only way is by airplane. Plus an Israeli passport will not get accepted in many, usually Muslim countries. Space to travel within the state is limited, not just because of the country’s size, but also because a sizable portion of it is desert.
The second downside are the taxes. We’ve been told by numerous friends who had moved to Israel that even for them it’s expensive, partly because they pay lots of taxes on their salaries. Many cannot afford to live in Tel Aviv, while working there, and choose housing outside the city. High taxes are probably there to fund the military, and to continue funding immigration. The more people the country has, the better it stands to develop and defend itself.
It is a country of optimism, though. It took a lot of positive thinking to create it, then even more effort to defend its right to exist. Even if living here is not all roses, the people of Israel seem to be taking it in strides. They’re happy to have a place of their own in the world and they’re not shy celebrating it, at least annually.
Would we want to live here? Maybe, but not more so than in Europe. Will we visit again? If we have a good reason, perhaps an event of some sort, yes. For sightseeing we’ll be heading elsewhere, though. There’s still so much to see in this world.