We’re in Israel on a family vacation for the next two weeks, a trip to mark our twin daughters’ 12th birthday and my mom’s 65th. A big year that required more from us than the usual birthday candles.
Coming here has been a really big deal for us, emotionally, financially, logistically. And although we’ve been planning it for a couple of years, we were a little bit nervous about bringing our children to a place so fraught with tension. It’s hard not to be nervous when you follow the news, when every fresh act of violence twists your insides. I understand that statistically we are in no more danger than we would be on an LA freeway (probably less in fact), but the images from the news get seared into your mind.
Anyhow, in our first two days here in Tel Aviv, I’ve learned a few things. The first is that we carry a very North American perspective on risk. People here (like people in most other places on the planet outside of urban North America) don’t get so worked up about mundane daily dangers.
No one wears a bicycle helmet, for example. Seatbelts seem largely optional in the front seats of cars (never mind the back seats). Kids run freely, seemingly unsupervised, in public spaces. Many more people smoke cigarettes. It’s safe to say our 3 children (along with 2 other pale, blonde kids with English accents we spotted yesterday) are the only ones on the beach wearing sun-protective swim shirts over their bathing suits. In fact, I haven’t seen this many people slathered with baby oil since the early 1980s. I saw one such shiny woman speed down the boardwalk on her scooter in a thong bikini (no helmet), cigarette in hand. I had to laugh, she looked so happy. (Still, I was glad she wasn’t my daughter!)
In fact, everyone seems much more relaxed. People are out with their small children at the cafes on the beach late at night. Women of all shapes and sizes wear bikinis with no self-consciousness. People generally seem fitter and healthier (all that smoking notwithstanding).
I can’t help thinking that these small daily activities must seem much less risky in the face of certain Israeli realities. All teens here spend at least a couple years in the army. Adults put in 30 days of reserve duty every year until late middle age. They’ve all faced some pretty tense situations. They’ve known loss in a way most North Americans have not intimately understood in many years.
They have also seen random, brutal danger in daily life. Arbitrary, life-changing violence on a city bus, an outing to a shopping mall, a nightclub, an evening stroll along a crowded street.
“Ein brera:” A distinctly Israeli expression to express how you carry on despite all this. There is no choice. Life is risky. Get on with it.
The news at home carries the stories of conflict, of course. But it doesn’t show the millions of people who go to work and school on a daily basis. Who relax in cafes in the evening, sell their wares in the markets, ride peacefully side by side on the bus. That’s what you see when you here.
The realities of life in the Middle East are never that far away. When was the last time airport security brushed your fingers for traces of explosives on a flight to Edmonton? Have you ever paid attention to an unattended briefcase? A young man oddly dressed in a bulky jacket in the July heat?
The risks we see at home come to seem like indulgences, like the extra perks we get for living in places like Montreal, Boston or Sarasota.
I’m not saying they aren’t worth our vigilence and care, just that it really is a matter of perspective. Sent from my BlackBerry® smartphone

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