Sunday, August 15, 2010

It isn't legal, is it?

Recently I posted on my Facebook page that of all the things that keep me awake during the night or awaken me in the early morning, i preferred the wonderful smell of challah on boker yom shishi (friday morning) over the sound of pounding and hammering (in this case breaking up a sidewalk) that started at 5:45 am that morning ...right outside my window!

A friend wrote and asked..." isn't even legal to pound and hammer at 5:45, is it?"

..ehhh.. legal?...

My first thought was she was trying to be funny (we have a joke about missing each other's jokes)...and i laughed, cause it was indeed funny...but then i realized......omg...i've come a long way, baby, because legal never entered my mind. i vaguely remember asking that question about something once in the early years of living here, but ..... to be honest, it never occurred to me to ask that question now...nor does it to most Israelis.

It's not that we are lawless!! Far from it...and yes, one could make a lot of jokes about Israeli culture and society but the truth is that our neck of the woods is in the Middle East... nuuu?...... so, we have different ways of looking at things...and our own rules..which by the way, are very strictly followed... sort of.

...let me explain.

You see, there is a huge difference between "legal" and practical reality...or between "legal" and cultural expectation. For example, it is probably not legal to make a u-turn in the middle of a busy street in the middle of busy traffic, but the cultural expectation is that if you have to turn around and go the other direction, you just do it. Lama lo? (why not?). It is simply expected and the cultural expectation becomes the practical reality (at least for the u-turner). If you SEE the driver turning around it almost never elicits honking...other drivers simply wait. HOWEVER, if you are down the line and can't SEE why traffic is held up, well, that's a different story.

And the pounding and hammering at 5:45 am.? Ya, i suppose it is illegal, but the practical reality is: 1) it was erev Shabbat morning, and my neighbors had to finish as much as possible before Shabbat came in and 2) it is so @#$%^ hot here right now, that 5:45 am was possibly the only time to do the work without heat stroke. so...that was it!...a bit annoying, but...totally understandable. Practical Reality.

It goes deeper than that. These examples might be unpleasant or irritating..and for two different reasons, but let me give you some other examples...of a happy sort.

It's probably illegal for a taxi driver to grab a passenger from the street, race through traffic at high speed and purposely cut off or block the bus that is a few blocks down the road so that the passenger in the taxi could board the bus. But the sweet Israeli reality is that the taxi driver probably couldn't handle one more rude bus driver leaving a passenger in the dust at the curb, so he took matters into his own hands, and assisted a frustrated bus rider to get to his destination. must be illegal for the Breslov boys to stop their van in the middle of traffic and with music blaring, jump out of the van dancing with hasidic joy...But the practical reality is that whenever and wherever the Breslov boys dance with their music, the energy of the street where they are dancing becomes positively charged and hearts become lighter (and more holy they would probably say)....and there's no way to define this in legal vs. illegal terms.

On the other side of the coin, it is perfectly LEGAL to drive on Yom Kipper, the most solemn day on the Jewish calendar...but almost no one does. Jewish expectations!

Sometimes this practical reality is difficult...especially at the national level. For instance, it is perfectly LEGAL for us to defend ourselves against hostile aggression, (e.g. Cast Lead war in Gaza, or more recently the flotilla attempt to break our LEGAL defensive blockade) but the reality is that for some reason our leaders think they must bow to (mistaken) world opinion, and do all kinds of things which actually endanger us, and certainly endanger our soldiers.

Or even more tragically, was it legal or illegal or simply immoral to encourage our People to settle the areas of Gaza (Gush Katif) and make the desert bloom, and then destroy all the homes, farms and communities they built, along with their livelihoods and lives, and then give the Land to terrorists who want to destroy us? [which btw, caused the necessity for the Cast Lead war, and allowed the flotilla aggression!] While they may have passed a "law" saying it could be done, the not-so-practical reality (in this case) was that our government wasn't strong enough to stand for morality and wisdom, let alone compassion. But that's the government and that's another story.

At the personal level, life on the street, this adherence to Rules of Reality, and Cultural Expectation as opposed to legal or illegal can be frustrating or rewarding...annoying or charming...funny or maddening...or all of the above.

One thing is certain. Once you've lived this's mamash difficult to think of living any other way. It just wouldn't make sense.