Most of the people in Tel Aviv weren’t born there but escaped to it, and since there are so many things to escape from in this country, it’s no wonder it has become so densely populated.
The average Tel Avivan, as I imagine him, was born somewhere else, went to the local high school there, was in the scouts, served in the Army—until at some point, he had enough and decided to move to the big city. The reasons that brought him to Tel Aviv were varied: maybe he came to find a drummer for his band; maybe he had a great idea for a startup and thought he could find a serious investor there; maybe it was because, where he comes from, they didn’t like his hairdo or his nose piercing or his views about the occupation and he believed that in Tel Aviv no one would hassle him.
The average Tel Avivan fell madly in love with the city at first sight. Yes, it’s true that the papers always described Tel Aviv as a bubble, and it was definitely nothing like the town he grew up in. But if Tel Aviv is a bubble, he thought, then he hoped it would keep growing and suck this whole damn country into it, along with the entire Middle East. Suddenly he’s meeting open-minded people in the street. Suddenly he has an Arab neighbor, an ultra-Orthodox neighbor, a gay neighbor, and they all say hello to each other. That hello can sometimes be cold, but he’ll take a cold hello any day over the curses and punches those people would probably be hurling at one another back in his hometown.
And at night, when he goes out for some fun, the restaurants and clubs are always open, there’s a lot of noise, a lot of action; everyone wants to party, no one is tired. And when he has had enough, all he has to do is walk a couple of blocks to the west and sit down on the soft sand of the beach. The city and the sunrise are behind him, the salty sea in front of him, and he knows, he just knows, that he’ll never leave this city. He loves it, loves everything in it. When he opens the paper, he’s likely to read that there’s a war going on, or that religious fanatics spit on a little girl because she was immodestly dressed. But all that is happening somewhere else.
Meanwhile, he meets a woman, falls in love with her, and they get married. He gave up on the band, the startup, or his weird hairstyle a long time ago because he’s past the age for stuff like that. And now that he has kids, his small, run-down rented apartment just doesn’t suit his needs anymore. The boy wants a dog, they need a backyard to play in—and where can he even find a house with a backyard in Tel Aviv, much less at a price he can afford?
So one day he wakes up in a house with a backyard and a dog, just like the one his wife and kids had dreamed of, in a different city, slightly smaller, slightly less brash and vivid, but with an excellent school system, or at least that’s what the lady at the local bank told him when he opened an account. The neighbors might not be so liberal. Whenever he buys milk and dog food at the grocery store, the owner insists on telling him what he really thinks of the Arabs and how the only thing they understand is force.
Meanwhile, another guy is already living in the rented apartment he left behind in Tel Aviv. That guy had come to the city not too long ago from where he grew up in southern Israel. He always thought that the entire world was just like that town he came from, until he arrived in Tel Aviv to go to law school. Within a week, his eyes are opened. At night, he goes out for a walk and sees a synagogue next door to a sushi bar, and standing in front of it, a fat prostitute listening to an iPod and singing along with Adele: “Never mind, I’ll find someone like you.”
On the TV in his small living room the newscaster is talking about the drums of war. But here, in Tel Aviv, no matter how hard he tries, the only thing he can hear is the chanting of the imam coming from a mosque in Jaffa mixing with the techno music coming from a nearby club, and he knows, he just knows, that he’ll never leave this city, no matter what.
Etgar Keret is the author of, most recently, Suddenly, a Knock on the Door.