Many of you may be familiar with the supposedly old Chinese curse: “May you live in interesting times“.
To many, the curse is puzzling. This is because our Western mind loves ‘interesting’. Is addicted to ‘interesting’. Since when ‘uninteresting’ is something positive to long for?
Living in Israel I start to grasp more and more the true value of the saying. Israel is not a country which provides much of those lovely, peaceful ‘uninteresting times’ that are so good for you.
I have a daily subscription to a paper, which I view as both a necessity and a curse. I remember once asking a meditation teacher how often was it advisable to read the news. He said: often enough to be properly informed, but not enough to get caught up in preoccupations. A quick look at the front page of today is enough to create preoccupations for the rest of my life:
– IDF kills four unarmed Palestinians in West Bank (crime: they were carrying axes on a chariot, had no ID, and happened to walk too close to those sensitive, secluded enclaves which are the settlements)
– Cabinet approves relocation of a bomb proof emergency room at Ashkelon hospital (a Rabbi has decided – a decision which will delay the project 2 years and cost another 120 million NIS – But note: if the ancient burial ground will be proven by professional evaluations not to belong to ancient Jews, it will be bulldozed as scheduled)
– Too much Holocaust: leading scholar claims that studying details of the Shoah has no educational value (especially since this eats up precious hours of the rest of the History program)
– A triumphal letter by the “Friends of the Land of Israel in the Knesset” takes up one-fourth of the page to express to Prime Minister Netanyahu “our support for your brave stand concerning the continuation of building projects in Jerusalem” (while the rest of the world is grinding teeth over the issue)
Oh boy. I start missing the Italian paper, where at most I would be yawning over Berlusconi’s sex scandals, or the soaring price of zucchini in the Porta Portese market.
Why is this country so complicated? Is all this amount of ‘interesting’ good for you? Is that good for health, blood pressure? Does it make you a better person? If you take it from the old Chinese saying, the opposite is true. A secure, boring place would allow the necessary piece of mind to tend to other business: child education, quality time, peace, fraternity, mindfulness. But no. Human mind loves excitement. Loves having something to say, discuss, examine, debate, boast opinions about. Is that so?
You’ll be surprised by the number of Israelis I met around the world, and especially in India, who are trying to escape such ‘interesting times’. Some through conscious self inquiry, rigid meditation practice, days or months of silence. Others through the shortcut obliviousness provided by drugs. I first met a group of Israelis back in 2005, during a summer meditation retreat in France. It was the time of the Lebanon war, with all the highlighted casualties, destruction, pain. One sweet girl told me she had her boyfriend in the army at the time, something I thought of as both heroic and terrifying. How could she be sitting counting mantras on a cushion in South France, while so much was going on in her homeland, even at such a personal level? My curiosity was great, so I tried to ask more questions about what they thought of the war, the future, etc. To my disappointment, I was met by a great deal of silence. No one really wanted to talk about it. Coming from opinionated Europe, where kids in school age take it to the street every other week, I thought it was strange behavior.
Of course it is much easier to happily march the streets against this year school reform, or even heavy issues like abortion or gay marriage when it does not touch you directly. When you have nothing to lose. When you are young and impatient, and naive as well. Or when you are older, so greatly informed, but not wise. I remember wearing the kefiah in my high school days, because that was the leftiest thing you could do, and because it was fairly cool (it is quite interesting to understand how the Left movement in Europe got so intermingled with the Palestinian cause, so that you can end up seeing the effigy of Che Guevara and Arafat in the same demonstration… but I will have to look at it in a future post). Did I really understand the symbolic behind that piece of cloth? No. Would I wear it today? I doubt. I am too much aware of the political discourse in the Middle East. I am aware and, at the same time, somehow defeated. I had much more assertive opinions about Israel back in Italy, than now, sitting in Tel Aviv, through my confusion. Through this invisible, all-permeating, apparently unsolvable conflict.
When I go back to Italy now and then, I meet my old University friends, who are eager to get the insider view of Israel over a pizza. They are the ones who lead the talk, impressing me by how much they know about Israeli politics, the Palestinian human rights. Most of the time, I now behave like the Israelis I met abroad: I’d rather change the subject.