From the time I first set foot in Israel in 1996, I have been mesmerized by the beauty and history of this place.
At the same time, however, I’ve been appalled at how people have chosen to maintain it. Coming to Israel is like going back in time in many ways, and unfortunately one of those ways is reflected in the amount of trash dumped everywhere and anywhere. (Remember the Keep Britain Tidy movement? And the fake Indian crying on American television to get Yanks to stop throwing their garbage out of the windows of moving cars? Where’s Israel’s weeping King David? Or Keep Israel Tidy?)
To illustrate what I’m talking about, I came up with a little photo essay.
Bill and I set out one morning last week to make a round of playgrounds, ironically one of the worst places to play or sit and converse with one’s adult peers. Here’s an overview of the playground. Pretty nice, no?
This is a particularly sought-after playground because of its zipline (something we never had at playgrounds in the US). Kids play ball here, swing, climb the structure. But what is that green stuff on the gravel in the foreground, at the base of the sandbox? Clover? Grass? *Gulp* Weeds? No, it’s…
Broken glass! (With some weeds mixed in.) The popularity of Crocs, which look like great gardening shoes but are very poor shoes for running and climbing, means that kids often kick them off on the swings, or shed them in an attempt to play barefoot. Fortunately, Efrat’s Emergency Medical Center is located down the road for stitching up tender little feet that get sliced and diced by all the broken glass here.
Parks and playgrounds are supposed to be fun for everyone, and families often choose to bring their dogs with them. Unfortunately, they don’t always remember to take all their dogs’ belongings with them when they leave…
Bill and I left that park and tooled on down the road to another playground. On the way, we passed by Efrat’s shopping center, which contains several eateries, among them Burgers Bar. Of course, one doesn’t actually have to see the Burgers Bar to know it’s in the vicinity; one has only to look in the rosemary shrubs lining the sidewalk for sufficient evidence:
If you look closely, you can see that this scrupulously kosher person also enjoyed a parve dessert after his or her dinner: a lollipop! B’teiavon.
Efrat is not all litter, I assure you. This time of year one can spot some hardy roses, blooming rosemary, and I saw the first blooming almond trees yesterday. (I haven’t yet gotten pictures of them.)
Even the empty lots in Efrat have a loveliness to them. While overgrown and rocky, one can often spy cyclamen growing out from between the stones. In the winter (i.e. now) the grass and weeds are green, and wildflowers bloom. Here’s an empty lot next to another playground:
And on closer inspection, we see the seamier side of this stony, grassy lot:
Trash, trash, and more trash…
When the Cap’n and I were on our program nearly 14 years ago, any tiyul we took was capped off at the end by our being asked to scurry around and pick up the hundred or so water bottles that had been scattered around whatever natural or man-made wonder we’d just visited. Tourist, immigrant, Sabra–there appears to be no difference between them when it comes to littering. Some places are much worse than others, but in a yishuv with the amount of civic pride that Efrat boasts, there is no excuse for the littering and vandalism which mar the streets, playgrounds, and open spaces here.
For nearly 2000 years, the Jews languished in exile, praying to return to our land. For all that time, we were subject to the laws (or lawlessness) that held sway wherever we were. We lived an existence fraught with denial: to own land, to join professional guilds, to attend universities. Anything we had could be (and sometimes was) taken from us at any time.
But here we are at last, in our own land, where everything is of, by, and about the Jews. It’s ours again. Some would argue that because it’s ours, we have the right to foul it up if we want to. But I don’t think that’s what people really want.
Like so many things, it’s a question of education. If parents and teachers were to instill in children’s minds the values of cleanliness, of safety, of beauty, Israel might look different. Parents should be aware that just because they live in a yishuv packed with religious Jews, many of them immigrants from the West, does not mean that their children will automatically absorb those values; they have to be taught explicitly.
I personally don’t fancy the idea of passing a filthy, garbage-strewn country on to the next generation. It’s for kids like Bill…
…that we need to teach our children good habits and civic pride. On our way home from our photo tour, we passed by a parked car with the following sticker in the rear window:
So do we.