Thursday, May 3, 2007

Israel: An Upwardly-Mobile Country

It is somewhat breathtaking to return to a part of the world 35 years later and see so much change. I am back in Israel, and while I have been here a number of times since my student days, I am now visiting my daughter who is herself a student, so it is bringing back a lot of memories. In the 1970's Israel was a newly developing country with a paucity of natural resources and a minimum of imported goods; many of the consumer niceties we American students were accustomed to were in short supply. Telephones were a luxury that families waited years to acquire; I believe I studied here 6 months without using a telephone. The napkins were like the waxed paper sheets at bakeries, virtually non-absorbent. Americans were particularly snobbish about Israeli toilet paper which was pink, narrow, and rough-textured, more like a mini-paper towel. Disposable bags were not given routinely and cardboard was rare. Locally published books often warped, with the bindings curving outward after a few uses - I don't know what that was about. The drink of choice was mitz eshkoliot, hand-squeezed grapefruit juice purchased at a street stand. I recall the guy squeezing the juice into a heavy glass. Once you drained it, you returned it and they washed it for the next customer. Another common drink was assis, basically a sweet concentrate with flavor added, which you diluted with water. It was cheap and resource efficient. Meat was served on our program about two or three times a week, considered pretty luxurious then, to please pampered Americans. The poultry was fine, but I recall a lot of gvetching about the beef, imported from Argentina, as I recall. I presume the difference was the meat was not as high-fat as American beef.
I can tell you that now, every Israeli seems to have a cellphone attached, giving new meaning to "upwardly-mobile!" Many Israelis, I am told, skipped the landline stage all together and leapfrogged to cells directly, a phenomenon which is common in the 3rd world.
Paper is now comparable to American quality paper goods and the books published here are now indistinguishable from any others. Israeli fabric and textiles used to be crude; now clothes sold here are made in poorer countries, the same globalizing trend as anywhere else in the world. There is a distinction in the religious items sold here between "Israeli made" and not, meaning coming from China.
Food is plentiful and bottled soda and water is everywhere. I happened upon a juice stand at a street market and realized how they had virtually disappeared and now it was a novelty. I didn't see Assis at all, but one of my daughter's Israeli-American friends reports that older, poor people still use it. Meat restaurants abound and hotel fare skews towards meat meals, rather a nuisance since I now eat mostly vegetarian.
Disposables are so ubiquitous here that they litter the landscape, just as they do the world over. I have been happy to see large recycling cages in city neighborhoods with holes for dropping in plastic bottles. They have a slot on the side for plastic bags. Another clever innovation here is the dual flush toilet. Typically they have a double flush handle, a smaller one nestled into a larger. Not hard to figure out this system. It is so smart. Don't you love it when a great idea seems sooooooooooooo obvious once someone else thinks of it?
Israel is a perfect example of how increased standard of living consumes more resources per capita. Since resources are finite, sustainability is going to be ever more compelling.
Are students different 35 years later? The answer is yes. They are incredibly much more sophisticated than we were, and these kids were 2 years younger, on a gap year.

1 comment:

rebecca m said...

I was a student in J-m last year. I don't think the pink toilet paper has changed in 30 years.

My main question is "why pink?"