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Unresolved Mystery - Do Israelis actually work?

אוגוסט 8, 2010. Ynetnews: Noah Klieger

For years I’ve been monitoring a phenomenon that I cannot explain despite all my attempts. Every day, starting at 3:30 pm, traffic jams start to form on Tel Aviv’s Ayalon Highway, as well as on the other roads leading out of Tel Aviv. Tens of thousands of cars clog the roads, making the drive a nightmare.

I obviously know that traffic congestion is not some kind of unique Tel Aviv phenomenon – a similar situation (if not worse) prevails in any other major world city, ranging from Istanbul and Athens to Bangkok and Mumbai, Paris and Rome, New York and Montreal. Yet what bothers me is not this global curse, but rather, the timing of traffic jams in Tel Aviv. Why at 3:30 pm?

We may assume that these motorists are people who finished working at 3:30 and are now rushing home. But who the hell ends work at such early hour? After all, most shops close their doors in the evening, at seven or eight, while offices close around five. So who’s responsible for the endless rows of vehicles at 3:30 pm? There also aren’t that many factories in central Tel Aviv.

So who’s driving out there? Mothers rushing to get their kids from kindergarten? They’re merely a fraction of the tens of thousands of motorists stuck in traffic. So maybe lawyers who completed their appearances at court? While there’s indeed an inflation of lawyers in Israel, their numbers don’t reach such proportions.

Blame the homemakers?

And here’s another mystery: The traffic jams at late morning hours; say 10 or 11 am. After all, traffic is congested at those times too. So who are the people on the roads at those hours? What kind of store or office opens just before lunch? Maybe homemakers who travel to various malls to do their shopping – but tens of thousands of homemakers? And all of them are heading to Tel Aviv, as if there are no malls in their hometowns?

Speaking of malls, here too lurks a mystery. Shopping and entertainment venues are always packed here as well – as if nobody in Tel Aviv (and many other Israeli cities) works. And how about those overcrowded coffee shops?

I recall my late friend, Kuba, who lived in Germany but visited Israel frequently. One morning, in the late 1960s, we were sitting at a Tel Aviv coffee shop on Dizengoff Street. Needless to say, it was packed, just like all other cafés in the area. Kuba asked me who all those people were. “Don’t people in Israel work?” he wondered.

“Of course they work,” I said defensively, explaining that some professions offer much leisure time. “For example, journalists,” I said. Kuba looked at me and cynically asked: “There are that many journalists in Israel?

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