I’m back in the States, but I’m not yet back on sturdy ground. It’s been a rough month and it’s going to take some time before I’m ready to re-engage properly. Thankfully, time in Israel really helped me do some well-needed thinking.
What I love most about leaving the United States is how it lets me re-consider the American norms that I take for granted living here day in and day out. All that’s on my brain these days is teenagers so I couldn’t help but watch Israeli teens. This wasn’t hard because teenagers were everywhere (and there was one living in the house in which I was staying). While I have to go looking for teens in American public settings, teens were often within view in public places in Israel.
Israeli teens do not have the same restrictions that American teens have. There don’t seem to be curfews, except those that are imposed by parents. (When I asked about whether cops hound teens, I was told that the cops in Israel have more important matters to attend to.)
I was totally fascinated by how many teens were wandering the streets, hanging out in parks, or BBQ-ing on the beach past midnight each night. They were on the beach, in the malls, and generally around all day and night. Adults tended to be nearby but the packs of teens were free to goof around with each other with little explicit control.
In Ra’anana (a suburb of Tel Aviv), there was a big park. Teens from across the town gathered there every night. At 1AM, the cinema in the park opened its doors for local teens to watch a movie for 10 shekels and free popcorn. The only restriction was that they had to have an ID that said they were from Ra’anana. There were all sorts of activities in the park – video games, a playground, etc. Late at night, you could see teens walking in groups from the park towards home (long after their parents were sleeping). They were just goofing around with their friends and no one seemed to mind.
Even though I saw teens everywhere, I saw little evidence of heavy drinking. (Of course, I didn’t see a lot of heavy drinking amongst adults either.) There were certainly hookahs and my nostrils gave me the sense that it wasn’t just tobacco that people were smoking. For the most part, teens seemed far more interested in goofing off with their friends.
Teens weren’t that visible in the settings where payment was necessary. For example, I didn’t see teens at the bars/cafes on the beach or in the clubs on the pier where the average age seemed to be mid-20s. My suspicion is that teens prefer the public spaces because they are free.
I have no idea how accurate my observations are but it was pleasantly refreshing to see teens everywhere out and about. And for that matter, adults. Venice Beach is eerie late at night and I don’t dare go down there except with a pack of male friends. And even then… Tel Aviv’s beaches were a different story. There were crowds everywhere until sunrise. Even on weekdays. Everything was well-lit, cafes all had outdoor seating, and wandering the promenades seemed to be a popular dating activity. God that was nice to see.