The Israeli Illusion of Time

Driving through Tel Aviv can be unnerving. I find people either drive so close to the car in front, that their bonnet becomes an extension of your boot, or else they toot and beep and curse you out of the way.

What’s the rush?

It seems to be a cultural issue. Israeli’s, and not all Israeli’s, but a good chunk of them, are in a hurry. In a hurry to be first in line, to speak before you have finished saying what you intended to say, to beep you out of their way, get the better of you before you get the better of them, to demand rather than ask. To simply be the best, which is often interpreted in being the first.

Listening to the learned opinions of two soldiers.

So many of my conversations with Israeli’s, Palestinians and immigrants have looked at this issue. I don’t introduce it. They do and I can see it impacts life here tremendously.  For the new immigrants, born in countries where ‘please and thank you’ are a cultural expectation, it can appear that many people here are just plain rude, but I think there is more to the story than meets the eye.

I wonder if part of the reason is that because Jews have historically undergone so much pain and suffering we have developed an innate fear of not having time to live out our lives fully. Coupled with that I am guessing we have a belief that unless we make ourselves seen and heard we run the risk of being overlooked. After all, Jews know what it is like to be disregarded and unheeded over and over again, especially when we most needed to our fellow humans to step in and speak up and indeed save our lives.

Rabbi Michael Lerner

I also think that part of the issue here is what Rabbi Michael Lerner calls National Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. In his 2008 Reflection on Israel’s 60th Rabbi Michael Lerner explores the reasons behind both the Jewish and Palestinian Post Stress Disorder that permeates both cultures. In this paper, to which I was present in Shalom College in Sydney that year, Rabbi Lerner stresses the undeniable impact of the “ United States and all other countries — including the Christian, Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist countries — closing their doors to Jews seeking refuge from the murder of millions of Jews by the fascists, and while the Palestinian people’s leadership used their influence with the British to ensure that Jews would not be able to settle in our ancient homeland both during and immediately after the Second World War , hundreds of thousands of survivors languished in displaced persons’ camps in Europe, the Zionist movement championed the need for a state of the Jewish people with its own army and its own territory.”

For a people who had been stateless for 20 centuries, who were forced to depend on the often-absent “good will” of their hosts in Europe, Africa, and Asia, the prospect of a homeland, prayed for everyday by Jews around the world for 2,000 years, seemed to be at once impossible and yet the only imaginable redemption from the trauma of the Holocaust and the previous centuries of suffering and insecurity.”

The symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress disorder include:

Irritability or outbursts of anger

Difficulty concentrating

Hypervigilance (on constant “red alert”)

Feeling jumpy and easily startled

Anger and irritability

Guilt, shame, or self-blame

Feelings of mistrust

Depression and hopelessness

Although the vast majority of Israelis do not go through life with all these symptoms, the mass consciousness of Israel seems to carry a significant number of them.

To say Israelis work hard is an understatement. I find Israelis incredibly busy people in general. Because of the low salaries they also work very, very long hours. It is quite normal to finish work at 8, 9, or even 10 pm. Then there are the extra activities. Dance, painting, courses, bike riding, cross fit and the list goes on. I have friends here that volunteer for two three and even four organisations a week!! The children do so many activities it’s a wonder they wake up in time for school. Again I wonder what drives this need to fill the days to the brim with everything possible.

Could it be that once again, by living under the cloud of war and persecution for so many years, Israeli’s try to live each day as if it might be their last? Filling every moment with purpose. The problem is that when we fill our days with so much we are often too tired, rushed and stressed to enjoy anything.

The most common sentence I hear is, “There’s no time.” When we fill every waking moment with activities and then discover that there is no time for the spontaneous and incidental things that arise,  naturally we could believe there is no time. But time is not limited. Time is an infinite vibration that goes on forever. What does happen is that when we fill our diaries with more and more things to do we paradoxically find our lives shrinking with lack of space. Lack of space to stretch, to think, to contemplate, ponder, daydream and relax. These are as essential to a well-lived life as eating and sleeping.

 I have always believed that meditation, daydreaming, and specific silent times should be available in schools. Every school and every child has the right to daydream, to be quiet, to commune with nature. The problem is that as long as we adults continue to rush around filling our lives with activities, the only thing we can be sure of is that we are simply building a new generation of children who will believe the illusion that there simply isn’t enough time. And you know and I know that’s just not true.










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