Peoples’ Protest

November 2, 2010

Working in Israel is a learning experience. Meetings are interrupted by cell phone conversations with nonchalance. As frustrating as this can seem at times, it’s simply a cultural difference.

In Israel there exists a level of informality in both everyday life and at work. In fact, following your meal at most restaurants, the waiter is likely to place toothpicks on the table. As my Mom pointed out at her first meal in Tel Aviv, “Only in Israel would it be okay to pick at your teeth at a nice restaurant!” Even as I write this I’m sitting in a pair of jeans at my desk, snacking on carrot slices and humus. This informality is pervasive in everyday Israeli life, and in my opinion is at the root of the problem of inpunctuality; or more precisely, “Israeli time.” Things here tend to start at least fifteen minutes after their scheduled commencement. Weddings are known to begin at least an hour after the time on the invitation. How does one know to show up at 5:45pm for a 5pm ceremony? These are the questions I ask myself everyday.

Working at a university in Israel is one of the best ways to learn about the culture because I am interacting with both my peers and superiors and thus can gauge the overall feelings on campus about culture and politics. The latest issue in the news and on campus relates to the stipends for Yeshiva students, a law that is currently under evaluation by the Prime Minister. The Yeshiva student law is a perfect example of the rare clash between traditional and modern life and religious and secular values in Israel.

One would assume that a country for and by Jews would be relatively supportive of its religious population. However, this population, theYeshiva students, are exempt not only from working (instead they study the Torah) but more importantly from participating in the necessary and unifying experience of every other Israeli citizen: service in the Israeli Defense Forces. Men are required by the country to give at least three years to the IDF and women are required to give two. For an entire population of the country to disqualify themselves from the service that exists for their protection is obviously a segregating factor.

After hearing about this dichotomy, it came as no surprise to me that the students at Tel Aviv University were planning on protesting the law. Israel has the highest number of academic degrees in the world; its students work hard after the army to save up money and continue to work at restaurants and bars throughout the school year to put themselves through college. It is surprising that a country that places such a focus upon education is essentially ignoring the financial needs of its students in order to give millions to support a population that will never serve in the defence forces or hold a job. In addition, this population gets pregnant early and often.

Last evening there was a protest in Jerusalem that drew over 5,000 students, something that rarely occurs in the United States. Israelis may be laid back and informal, but I guess they know when it’s important to get serious.

 

Protest at Tel Aviv University, November 11th, 2010

http://www.ynetnews.com/articlesnc/0,7340,L-3983222,00.html