Galilee Diary: An evening in Levinsky Park
"Peace plaza," "Peace market," "Peace square"... are found in every city large and small, and villages and settlements are named for peace, because peace is the "stamp" of our people, peace outside and peace within. For the Jews are a people who love peace in the world, and that is its desire and purpose - just to live in peace and brotherhood, each person with his brother and with the other peoples.... And since they came into their land they have lived in true peace with all the peoples and have dwelt in peace each person under his vine and under his fig tree in the land, with none to make him afraid...
- Elchanan Levinsky, A Trip to the Land of Israel in 2040, 1892
Elchanan Levinsky was active in the pre-Herzlian Zionist movement "The Lovers of Zion," and was a friend of Achad Ha'am. Ten years before Herzl's utopian novel Altneuland, Levinsky wrote a science fiction account of a visit to the Jewish state in 2040, envisioning a high-tech land with a rich Hebrew culture, in which various institutions of social justice have been re-created (e.g. the Jubilee year redistribution of land). Shortly after Levinsky's death in 1911, a teachers' seminary named for him was opened in the new Hebrew city of Tel Aviv. Levinsky College remains a respected institution to this day. Then came Levinsky Street, and Levinsky Park, located across the street from the Tel Aviv central bus station.
When Israel conquered the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, the labor economy changed significantly, as cheap labor from these territories entered all the service and construction trades and agriculture in Israel. When the borders were closed following outbreaks of rioting and terrorism, these sectors suffered a severe labor shortage, and the government approved the importation of temporary workers from abroad. Thousands of workers from Africa, Asia, and Latin America were brought in by labor contractors, often under exploitative conditions; many lost or jumped their visas and sought to stay; many began families here. The seedy area around Tel Aviv central bus station, associated with poverty, homelessness, prostitution and drug addiction, became a center for this population, a strange foreign land where you can hear every language in the world except Hebrew. Periodically the immigration police make sweeps, the government debates the deportation of the Israeli-born-and-educated children of these "temporary" immigrants, and the agricultural and construction industries lobby for higher quotas.
On a summer evening, the broad lawns of Levinsky Park are occupied by the Sudanese refugees who live there (!), and by dozens of Chinese and Thai and African and Hispanic families bringing their children to the playground. Last night, the final show of the Galilee Arches Circus tour was held there. Twelve teenage circus performers from St. Louis and 13 Arab and Jewish teens from the Galilee Circus presented their joint performance - black and white, Christian and Jewish and Muslim, boys and girls, big and little - they went through their routines of tumbling, acrobalance, juggling, unicycle, etc. for an enthusiastic crowd that kept growing, as the music drew in hundreds of folks in the park, sitting, standing, climbing onto rooftops for a better view. A pre-teen Sudanese boy came up afterwards and managed "I want to learn" in English; we had to explain to him, in Arabic, that the Galilee is too far away for him to participate. It was the best show of the tour, as the performers were energized by the crowd, and it was a fitting end to a wonderful two weeks, classical multicultural circus as it was meant to be.
I wonder how Levinsky would have felt about the somewhat surreal picture in "his" park.
Of course, we haven't fulfilled his vision of utopia - but we still have thirty years to work on it.