Pesach has come and gone; spring is here but summer is already on its way. Our Israeli elections results are in, but who knows what interesting changes tomorrow will bring. Seasons change, styles change, technology changes, climates change. The world continues to spin merrily around a steady, eternal orbit but nothing else stays the same.
One huge alteration is that the world has shrunk. Every point on the globe is just a hop, skip and a jump away. Whereas coming to the Holy Land used to be a journey of many months, today people pop in for a weekend simcha. The Far East used to be as remote as Mars. Today it’s teeming with tourists. A grandchild just returned from several months “trekking” in Asia with a friend. They wanted to “get away.” “Getting away” used to mean a few days or a few hours away.
The kids also wanted to “disconnect.” When we’re away, we call home several times a day to check if all is well. They, however, barely answered their phones (which was exceedingly annoying). There was simply no reception. No Waze, WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter or other digital dainties in western Mongolia. Even lowly SMS’s went unanswered for days. Things were better in India where they usually managed to call on erev Shabbos to assure their families that they were alive and well… somewhere.
We also have Connected Ones. So very connected that I suspect that chips were embedded in their brains immediately after birth. How else do little children know how to navigate the Internet and connect with the world so effortlessly (albeit with a good filter)? We used to read books and play games. So do they. Fast, dizzying games. On the screen. Of course their parents conduct their lives on phones and computers too. One could truly say it’s a generation that lives Online.
Civilization has undergone other basic changes. Gone are the days when culture connoted fine art, music, refinement or even polite behavior. Good taste is no longer governed by rules. Today just about anything goes, even in the Jewish world. Our music has morphed into flashing lights, the beat of drums and deafening amplifiers. This is called “spiritual.” Small simchas have evolved into massive, elaborate affairs. Even as simple a matter as sending mishloach manot has turned into an expensive extravaganza.
Homes are routinely gutted and reassembled according to the newest design. Fashion continues to reign supreme, even while it changes. Skirts move up as necklines move down; maternity wear shrinks from tent-like cover-up to form fitting lycra; knees peep through factory ripped denim; men’s jackets get tighter, pants get slimmer. Kippot shrink and women’s headscarves turn into colorful bands. But women’s hair (both wigs and the natural product) grows longer and longer, curled, waved and blowing in the wind. Beards are not popular, but stubble, once considered slovenly, is now chic.
Granddaughters who used to complain about my old-fashioned wardrobe search my closet for unused “vintage” wear. Evidently old clothes are back in style. These are the things I wear to clean house, but the girls assure me they are now “in.” (I don’t know who is more pleased – they, with their “new” acquisitions, or me, with my additional closet space.)
Traffic is a story unto itself. Our roads have become unrecognizable. In those long-gone Old Days, a four-lane highway was a rarity in Israel. There was only one two-lane road from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv. You couldn’t get lost if you tried. Nowadays, there are eight, twelve and perhaps even sixteen lane highways in the country and several multi-laned roads to the Holy City, with a slew of underpasses leading to places you were not intending to visit, but might end up in anyway. Maps – our silent, faithful guides for centuries – are out. The Waze Lady (or Man) is in. But even Waze gets confused. Our mini-traffic jams have become massive blockades. The roads are usually clogged. And heaven help you if you need a parking place in the city. Sometimes it’s even difficult to park a bicycle.
Last, we are drowning in a world of advertising. Once, there were silent ads in newspapers or magazines. Then we had radio, TV, and movies through which to sell us things. Today we breathe advertising. Buildings have morphed into billboards twenty stories high. Our cell phones and computers guarantee that not sixty seconds go by without bringing some vital product to our attention. We are inundated, attacked, and overwhelmed with advertising, including ads for religious living. There is no end, no respite and no way to block it all out. Whether it’s the offer of a quiet, blissful vacation around the globe or a free loan from the bank of your choice, it’s yours for the taking. If you believe the ads, no one stays home for Pesach anymore, everyone spends the summer on a luxury cruise or in a posh camp, and all homes, people, and lives look just like the ads – picture perfect. We are given to understand that without these excessive luxuries, we are simply deprived.
We are assured that nowadays, everything is newer, better, more convenient, more glamorous, more exciting and absolutely necessary. Breaking out of this ever-tightening web is hard, especially when children think that this is the way life is normally lived. Like a bashful bride, the world is begging to be brought home. Time is there to be filled; money to be spent; adventures pursued – all in a proper, legal, Jewish manner of course. Nothing permissible is to be ignored if it can be obtained, and the more, the merrier.
There’s no doubt that much in our “New World” is better: more convenient, glamorous and exciting; healthier, more comfortable and with endless opportunities – and we like our new toys. Very few people would want to turn the clock back. That’s why it’s so hard to explain to our kids that nonetheless, it’s not always wise to adopt every change, accept every interesting idea and move ahead so quickly. We need time to assess, select, digest and adjust to this constant newness.
Perhaps all these opportunities are the reason there are so many therapists and counselors nowadays. We seem to need help with everything from cradle to grave – how to give birth, raise a baby, survive a toddler, love a teen. How to find a job, find friends, fit in, remain separate. How to find a shidduch, get married, stay married, get divorced (lo aleinu) – how to live. How would we ever manage without all the how-to guides and advisors?
Younger generations are full of idealism, energy and new ideas, and change is intoxicating. But how do they know what will work without having first tried it? Perhaps the current “How To” books help. But perhaps there is still something to be learned from the generations who came before.
I guess we’ll have to wait for Eliyahu HaNavi for the final answer… Behold… I shall send you Eliyahu the Prophet before the coming of the great and awesome day of Hashem, and he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to the fathers… Malachi 3:23.
Meanwhile, let’s turn the volume down and travel a bit slower. It’s getting hard to keep up.