Street Corner Serenade

It is hard for me to believe that it has been more than three years since  my last visit to Israel.

That is far too long for Israel is constantly in my thoughts.

When I think back to my last visit, this is what comes to mind …

Today, the very upscale Mamilla mall that connects King David Street in Jerusalem to the entrance to the Jaffa Gate of the Old city is one of the most expensive stretches of real estate in the world. When I first came to study in Jerusalem in 1970, though, it was a depressed industrial area with a slum-like look. How Israel has changed!

I wonder if it is still there. I hope so

On my last visit there was at the entrance to the mall is a bronze sculpture of a man playing his violin on a street corner or a promenade. Some of his strings are broken, but he perseveres. His violin case is open before him, and it holds the spare change that passers-by have tossed into it. It is how the man supports himself and his family.

Three years ago the asking price of the sculpture was about $16,000. It is probably more today. That is way beyond my budget, but to me that sculpture is a magnificent symbol of one of Israel’s greatest triumphs.

Israel’s Record on Refugee Absorption

Between 1990 and 2000 Israel absorbed more than one million immigrants from the former Soviet Union. To give perspective on what that means it was a feat akin to the United States absorbing the entire population of France!

As you can imagine, it was not easy . There were logjams in housing, job training, language training and many other necessities of starting a new life in a new country. Doctors in the FSU worked as orderlies; PhD. engineers worked as janitors; and symphony orchestra level musicians stood or sat on street corners and played with their instrument cases open, hoping for a few shekels from those who passed by.

Whenever I visited Israel during those ten years, the sculpture that caught my eye at the entrance to the Mamilla Mall was an all too familiar and all too sad real life scene. I still see their faces, and I still feel the sadness of their sacrifice.

Back home in the FSU they were respected musicians with positions of esteem. But they sacrificed all that as did so many in other walks of life. They sacrificed their present to come home to Israel in order to give their children and grandchildren the future and with that future the freedom and opportunities which the Jewish State would offer.

As we know, Israel triumphed and overcame those hard times! Because Israel successfully absorbed so many highly educated FSU immigrants, her economy has boomed, and it has become one of the leading high tech nations in the world!

Israel, of course, still faces many problems both external and internal, but it has become one of the strongest most economically healthy nations on the planet. So many people from visionary leaders to dedicated factory workers have shaped the Israel of which we are justly proud .

Just as I am proud of Israel’s triumphs, we yearn to see it become an ever more just, caring, compassionate society that offers freedom and equal opportunity to all of its citizens regardless of religion, nationality race or gender. I yearn and hope one day to see a strong Israel and an independent Arab state of Palestine living side by side in harmony and friendship.

For me, the symbol of both that triumph and that hope is the sculpture of an elderly man playing on with broken strings with an open violin case before him.

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