Many Israelis Seek Escape from the Bitter Taste of Reality

Just as Yasser Arafat was announcing his intention to stop all Palestinian attacks on Israel this week, many Israelis were out buying lottery tickets.

Faced with the ongoing violence of the 15-month-old Palestinian intifada, Israelis are looking for an escape from reality.

The matzav, or situation, as Israelis refer to the violence, has taken its toll.

Just the same, Israelis appear remarkably resilient in their ability to function and look beyond a seemingly untenable situation. They use a combination of humor and chutzpah to deal with the disturbances of life.

The lottery has become one popular diversion.

Israelis have spent more than $45 million for lottery tickets in the last few weeks, seeking to win a $12.5 million jackpot courtesy of Mifal Hapayis, the state-run lottery.

Every hour, when Israelis check radio updates to hear if there have been any new Palestinian suicide bombings, they hear a catchy jingle urging them to spend a few hard-earned shekels on a lottery ticket.

“I’ve really never seen anything like this,” said Motti Leshem, who sells lottery tickets, along with newspapers and office supplies, out of a narrow corner shop.

“Everyone is coming in to buy lottery tickets. I guess they want an escape from reality.”

The lottery is but one example. Israelis will seek out most any diversion that will offer them respite from the matzav.

Malls, for instance, may be off-limits to wary American tourists visiting Israel, but they’re packed with Israelis.

Over the Chanukah holiday, Israelis filled theaters, malls and shopping centers to entertain their children during the eight-day school break.

Thousands of Israelis spent $8.75 a ticket to see the recently released “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” being shown in English and in Hebrew at local theaters.

The book on which the movie is based is the top-selling paperback at Steimatzky’s, an Israeli bookstore chain.

“They’re all snatching it up, adults and children,” said Yehudit, a cashier at a Steimatzky’s in Jerusalem. “It’s pure escapism.”

It isn’t hard to understand why Israelis are looking for activities to divert their attention from the news.

If each hourly news broadcast doesn’t begin with an attack, it opens with news of the 2002 budget, which government ministers are slashing in an effort to deal with the faltering economy.

Some Israelis have taken to museum-going to escape their woes.

James Snyder, director of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, described it as a matter of seeking “culture in complex times.”

A third of the museum’s visitors used to be tourists, with the remaining two-thirds Israelis, half of those from Jerusalem. But the ongoing violence has taken a bite out of the tourist business.

As a result, museum officials were not expecting any big numbers in July, when they opened an exhibit of treasures from China.

They were pleasantly surprised to have 3,000 people at the opening. it was a similar story when the Chanukah Festival opened last week, as crowds of parents and children flocked into the museum.

“They’re coming because it makes them feel good,” Snyder said. “In a crazy way, we’re kind of expected to help them sustain a sense of robustness and vitality.”

Israelis seeking an escape have been driving down to the Dead Sea in increasing numbers, according to hotel managers in the region.

“Israelis are getting lots of deals these days,” said Daniel Shalev, a manager at the Grand Nirvana Resort.

There are currently 15 hotels on the Dead Sea, providing a total of some 4,000 rooms in need of occupants.

Most of the hotels are offering three-night deals and two-for-one spa treatment packages in an effort to entice Israeli visitors.

“Israelis aren’t afraid to drive down here, and they know they can get rest and relaxation,” said Gabi Beck, manager at the newly built Royal Hotel. “That’s what everyone needs these days.”

NEXT STORY