Friday, September 08, 2006

Where Do the Children Play - In Jerusalem?

A few days ago I heard the song “Where do the Children Play” on the radio (for me, radio means my Itunes  partyshuffle).  Written by popular (in the 1970’s) British musician Cat Stevens, the lyrics lament the loss of natural resources we are experiencing as a result of our ever-expanding consumer culture, and especially as it affects our children. Take for example, the first stanza:

Well I think it's fine, building jumbo planes. Or taking a ride on a cosmic train. Switch on summer from a slot machine. Yes, get what you want to if you want, 'cause you can get anything. I know we've come a long way; We're changing day to day, But tell me, where do the children play?

Indeed, where do the children play?
Hearing the song, I thought about the new playground that had been installed in our courtyard this pass summer. The courtyard itself is small, bordered with trees and shrubs, consisting of bare flagstone and a couple of peeling, unused park benches. Children rarely came to play there, and most of the time it was deserted. All this changed about a month ago. Municipal workers arrived and started drilling, lifting, and cutting. Within two weeks they had laid out a small, rubberized surface playground with a few simple facilities, (a see-saw, and such). The playground is extremely small, about 10 meters length, and five meters width (about 33 x 17 feet). If more than four or five children are playing there together it is already crowded, considering that there are only four recreational games available. But despite this, ever since they finished putting it up, the playground is packed – literally dozens of kids of all ages come to play there, together with their parents. I had no idea that so many kids even lived in my neighborhood, and I began wondering – where did they all play before this small, completely insufficient playground was built?

As a kid, one of the best things about coming to Israel from the states (as opposed to many bad things), was that in Israel it was expected and also possible that children spend most of the time outdoors, in the sun. At the time Jerusalem, the country’s capital , was like a small village, and we really had a lot of room to play, lots of open fields, and unpopulated hills and valleys. We never lacked for things to do, or places to be.
Within a period of ten years all that had changed. I had left Jerusalem the Village in the middle of the eighties, and came back more than a decade later to Jerusalem the Metropolis, burgeoning, and forever developing. The change was enormous – virtually all of the open spaces I used to play in had been turned into inner city streets and highways, or else apartment buildings and whole new neighborhoods inhabited my former playing grounds. It was, and still is most depressing. Of course, I am very happy that my country and people are vibrant enough to need this kind of accelerated growth, but I feel that we have lost something in the process, something that might as well be summed up in the question with which I began – where do the children play?

I do not have any children yet, so I cannot say from first hand. But it seems to me that they must be playing indoors since there simply isn’t enough place for them to play outside. There is only one large municipal park in the city, Gan Sakker, which is always very crowded, and not much else on that scale.  I do have a few cousins who are constantly being kept inside, or else they are being driven from one afternoon class to another. This tendency to keep kids at home or else chaperone them all the time is evident also in the amount of parents driving their kids to school each day. I live next to two schools, and I see the traffic jams each day. In my mind this is incredible – as a kid, nobody I knew would be driven to school, and the bus ride to school was part of our daily ritual.  Considering that child obesity is becoming a problem also in Israel, then maybe it is true – children do not really have places to play outside.
So where do the children play in Jerusalem?
Sadly – because I do not think this is good - the answer is: in the dark, grim recesses of their air-conditioned homes. Well, maybe the homes are clean and bright, but still, it’s not the same as sunshine and open fields. Personally, I’m glad I do not have to grow up in such an environment, and I really hope my children, if I ever have any, won’t have to do so either.


westbankmama said...

This is why we moved to a yishuv - my kids play in the playground, in their own yard, and on the rocks around the perimeter of the yishuv.

Tamara said...

I first heard the song at a Jewish summer camp, obviously of the Reform variety. The song, to this day, still moves me. I think Cat was far ahead of his times with the lyrics. Or perhaps, the lyrics were perfect then and transcend time now. Either way, you ought to link it here.

Oh, and when I was a kid, we played in the yard, in the park, in the neighborhood; however, I think in most places in the world the state of safety and such is such a big issue that parents seem afraid to let kids play.

So sad...and such a great tune!