We sat at an outdoor table at the café on Tel Aviv’s Arlozorov Street. The waitress served small pizzas. When we had made the date, we didn’t know that that evening was to be a “White Night” in Tel Aviv, where the places of entertainment are opened all night.
A river of people flowed by on the sidewalks and beyond, searching for the “what’s happening” – searching for meaning that was conspicuously absent. I thought to myself, how odd that all those people who ran away to the big city from the outlying towns, so eagerly devote themselves to the content-masters of the municipality. They won’t be sleeping that night because that is what the Tel Aviv Municipality Culture Committee decided.
Many years ago, I observed the same phenomenon in New York. Then, it was the strange fashion to wear sneakers on the subway and to string one’s more respectable work shoes around one’s neck, putting them on only at the entrance to the office. Suddenly, everyone was dressing in this ridiculous fashion. Everywhere you looked, you would see tailored businessmen wearing sneakers, with shiny, respectable shoes dangling from their necks. After that came the next must-do fashion, followed by the next and the next – all observed with ritual meticulousness.
The urban space, purported to represent the height of individualism, is nothing more than a space void of meaning – a place that hungers for meaning.
A young Tel Aviv couple sits down opposite us. 28 years old, married a year. He is an engineer, she is a graphics artist. We got to talking.
“I don’t understand anything about politics,” he said.
“But you of course voted for Lapid,” I said.
He fidgeted uncomfortably in his chair, as if I had caught him doing something terribly wrong. “How did you know?”
“You understand,” he said, “I do my reserve duty in a combat unit. Every year we have reserve duty in Gaza. Every two years there is a war, friends are killed, how much of this can we take? I want something new that is not Left and not Right – something that will solve the problem.”
“What has that got to do with anything?” I thought to myself. He is trying to explain to me and himself why he voted for Lapid, and he gives me a reason that has absolutely nothing to do with the way he voted. Does Lapid have some mysterious peace plan? Will Lapid succeed in making peace where Peres, Rabin, Barak, Olmert and Sharon failed?
So why did he vote for Lapid? And how did I guess that so easily?
Because this young Israeli, similar to the throngs of people streaming by the café, is looking for meaning. And just like the Tel Aviv Municipality, Lapid provides it – but not really.
What meaning does Lapid give us? He is the Tel Aviv “White Night”, he is the sneakers with the business suit, he is the passing fashion that fuses with the search for meaning.
Intellectually, everybody can understand that he bears no meaning or new insight, nor any inherent ability to change something. But if there is no real vision, the “latest thing” affords us a fleeting illusion of meaning.
That is how I immediately understood that he voted for Lapid.
The problem is that right now, the illusion is taking hold. The pointlessness of the other political parties empowers it. In the end, Lapid may really become Prime Minister, and that would be a true catastrophe. Because Netanyahu is the world champion of making it look like he is striving toward some goal. And then nothing happens. Lapid, on the other hand, tells us that we have already achieved our goal.
Netanyahu has no answer for the ‘what’. He deals only with the ‘how’.
Lapid is much more dangerous. He has an answer for the ‘what’. His answer is ‘me’. According to Lapid, the meaning of our lives here is Israeliness, success, glitter, fun and Lapid.
Nothingness, wrapped in pseudo-meaning, is glittery and seductive. If you look good on the screen, then you must exist.
Lapid will stop at nothing to prove his theory. The destruction that he wrought as Finance Minister will be nothing compared to what he will do as prime minister. He will gallop between wild-eyed socialism and raging capitalism (depending upon what looks better on the screen at any given time), between insane Sharon-style disengagement to unnecessary wars, between the dismantling of every value still left here to empty words about Jewish identity.
And the sweet young man sitting opposite me voted for him. And if he does not find any true, alternative meaning, many more will join him – and Lapid will be Prime Minister.