People stuck in traffic for three hours, all the cellular networks completely down, busses packed beyond capacity, bus drivers being forced to drive routes they've never driven before, hundreds of thousands of people with virtually no security personnel… Tel Aviv broke down last night. And for what? Twenty-eight minutes of French-sponsored fireworks. I loved it. Not the fireworks so much (though they did surpass those of Independence Day), and not the infrastructure break-down, but the scurrying of 300,000 Israelis, in a good mood for once, to and from the beach. The mood was palpable as I walked through the Carmel market as it was shutting down and the small streets of the Yeminite Quarter with hundreds of others all headed in the same direction. Everyone was excited, as if something good was about to happen. It doesn't matter that nothing all that good happened, it was the shared experience which made it worthwhile. After the display, the streets of Tel Aviv were more packed than I've ever seen them and the vibe of a party surpassed that I've seen following any event in any American city.
So given that the plans for the fireworks themselves were so carefully laid – launching 5 tons of pyrotechnics from a boat 400 meters out to sea requires some preparation and permits, I presume – how is it that the public transportatation, private transportation, security, and cellular infrastructure all broke down? I suspect that the turnout was significantly higher than expected because, for all her faults, Israel typically does a good job of ensuring security. The cell networks going down was surprising – at equally large events on Rabin Square (the rally featuring Bill Clinton last fall, Independence Day fireworks, etc.), cell service remained uninterrupted. As for the traffic problem, Israeli highways are parking lots almost twice a day – just not quite as bad. Tel Aviv was apparently taken off guard, so I won't fault the city for its lack of preparation. Stil, as an American, I've got to ask the question: can you imagine something like that every happening anywhere in America? When PG&E failed to provide power to 120,000 SF residents for a couple hours, then mayor-elect Gavin Newsom vowed to hold those responsible accountable and prevent the problem from occuring again. In contrast, I can't even find a single news article mentioning the interruption in cellular telephone service last night (the traffic jams have been mentioned).
Welcome to Israel – expect a lot from your compatriots' ability to have a good time and expect little from your country's ability to support unexpectadly large gatherings. I think I can live with that.