Monday, March 24, 2014

The Resurgence of Downtown Memphis

As a child, I heard about the high crime rate and stark divide between the socioeconomic classes. I was told to never venture there alone, for doing so would put my life in grave danger. I was told that, if I should end up there, I was to leave quickly and never look back. After hearing nothing but negativity about Downtown Memphis, I grew to believe that it was in the midst of a downward spiral, falling so fast that it would one day find itself incapable of a resurgence. However, I write to you as a man corrected. 

When I’m older and far, far from here, I’ll reflect on my childhood in Memphis and find that one particularly fond memory sticks out. Looking to explore Downtown Memphis with my own eyes, I recently ventured there with a friend, parking my car just off of Union Avenue. We had no agenda; we were there to simply feel the city, to experience it for ourselves. As we walked through its streets, we were shocked to find the diverse group of Memphians that walked beside us. We inspected the various businesses, apartment buildings, and quaint parks around us. We walked past the historic Peabody, up entertaining Main Street, and emerged onto Front Street where the rays of the sunset sent chills through my body. As the sunlight struck my face, I found myself unleashing the misconceptions that had once made me fear traveling out of 38120. I’d chosen to see the city through my own eyes and open mind, and it led me to a grand realization: Resurgence is here. 

According to the Downtown Memphis Metrics 2013 Report, released by The Downtown Memphis Commission, an organization that “strives to attract and retain residents, businesses, visitors, and students by fostering the development of a vibrant Downtown that is densely populated, authentic, mixed-use, walkable, clean, safe, and fun,” Downtown Memphis is on the rise. In 2013, the average household income for Downtown residents was $58,745, an over $7,000 increase from 2010. Furthermore, the median household income rose nearly $4,000, growing from $32,839 in 2010 to $36,228 in 2013. Not only has the economy experienced a boom, but residents are growing increasingly well-educated. In 2013, 39.1% of Downtown residents had completed a bachelor’s degree, an increase from 35.3% in 2010, and 18.8% of residents possessed a graduate degree, an over 2% increase from 2010. As Downtown’s real-estate industry continues to grow, so too does the residential population. In 2013, the residential population of Downtown Memphis was estimated at 24,000, an over 18% population increase from 2000. A great deal of this growth can be attributed to a growing financial industry, with career opportunities in various law firms, hospitals, service industries, research labs, government offices, and educational institutions, among many more. 

Beyond the statistics, one can feel the hopeful spirit that pervades throughout Downtown Memphis by simply walking through its streets. Blues, jazz, and rock and roll can be heard from every corner, the scent of barbecue emanates throughout the blocks surrounding Beale Street, and a sense of optimism radiates through neighborhoods that have gone from beaten down projects to beacons of hope. At the edge of Downtown, near the border of Midtown, arts are explored through exhibits, theater performances, and concerts featuring local artists. Though irrelevant to the Jewish community, another notable aspect of revitalized Downtown Memphis is its restaurant scene, boasting innumerable local spots that are succeeding financially and bringing Downtown Memphians together. The opportunities seem endless for a Downtown that’s caught a new breath of life. 

I’m well aware that Downtown Memphis still has a ways to go in shedding its reputation of being home to an exceedingly high violent crime rate. I’m well aware that a socioeconomic divide still exists and inhibits collective growth. I’m well aware that things are far from perfect. But I’m nevertheless hopeful, as I should be, that Downtown Memphis is heading toward a bright future. It’s is in the midst of an economic, real-estate, and social revolution, inching closer to healing its fractured reputation, and heading toward prominence not for its high crime rate, but for its vibrant city-life and vast economic opportunities. The time is now to give Downtown Memphis a chance, for the future is here, and it’s incredibly bright. 

Monday, March 17, 2014

Pursue Peace, Not Divisiveness

They point fingers and spew catchy phrases. They shout louder than their opposition, giving off the false impression that their voice is one of righteousness and hope. They claim that their actions are inspired by their pursuit of peace. But their outright attempt to tarnish the reputation of Israel, and to subtly spread a sense of modern anti-Semitism, isn't what's most frightening.

Rather, the most frightening aspect of Israel Apartheid Week is the fact that those who were previously indifferent toward the conflict often fall prey to false claims, utter distortions of fact, and blatant attempts to delegitimize the State of Israel. They're fed information from a growing number of people who hide behind a facade of peace; people who are indefatigably pursuing the absolute annihilation of the sovereign Jewish state.

I write not from the perspective of someone desperately seeking a scapegoat on which I can place full responsibility for this ever-perplexing conflict, I write from the perspective of someone who firmly supports a viable two-state solution; someone who prioritizes peace over petty blame games. I maintain the belief that the perpetuation of anti-Israel sentiments will not yield a unified effort to reach a two-state solution. I hold that divesting from Israel's economy and academia is not a step toward a resolution; it's a divisive act that does nothing but provoke Israel to alienate itself from Western influences. I feel that Israel Apartheid Week is rooted in the desire for a sole Palestine at the expense of Israel's existence, not merely an independent, self-sufficient state.

I was raised to hold an uncritical love for Israel. I was conditioned to think that She did no wrong. As I've gotten older, though, I've analyzed the conflict on a deeper level, and I have come to find immense value in being critical.

Many undeserving Palestinians are suffering. The situation is, to put it lightly, rather unfortunate. Countless civilians are caught in the middle of a political gridlock that has manifested itself in the form of failed peace talks and petty disputes. While this reality is very painful to grasp, I find it unfair to paint only this side of the conflict, as the malicious anti-Israel protestors often do.

It's unjust to portray the Palestinian people as the oppressed; as the sole sufferers in this circumstance. The militant tendencies of radical Islamic groups, many of which are in either official or indirect control of the Palestinian population, make it very difficult for the Israeli government to simply leave Judea and Samaria be. There are necessary precautions that must be taken by the Israeli military to ensure the unequivocal protection of its people.

Unfortunately, and though it's not the same for every Palestinian, there is a sense of reverence and admiration for terrorists who commit themselves to the eradication of the Jewish population. When dealing with a society that perpetrates such acts, it's unimaginably difficult to feel confident in making certain concessions for peace, especially if those concessions would further endanger the well-being of your population.

I am biased, there is no doubt about that. However, I am sufficiently open minded, to the point that I can see that Israel's treatment of the Palestinian people is far from immaculate. Israel is rigid in her policies, and, in my opinion, does not pursue peace as though it's a necessity, which I firmly believe that it is. And the roadblocks, the checkpoints, the intense security measures: it's all inexplicably unfortunate. But it's not characteristic of an apartheid state. This modus operandi of protection is not in place to perpetuate Israel's social dominance over the Palestinian people based solely on their race.These precautions have come as reactions to intifadas, to unprompted wars, and to thousands of terrorist attacks.  This system has been implemented to maintain safety within the land of Israel until Palestinian society is ready, willing, and conclusively able to adopt and uphold peaceful values and ideals.

To conclude, I'd like to note that this conflict is certainly not black and white, and I am not one to claim proficiency in my understanding of the ever-expanding gray area. There are people suffering on both sides, and continuing this blame game does nothing but perpetuate divisiveness. In order to arrive at peace, we must pursue peace. Israel can no longer be regarded as the sole proprietor of blame in this conflict; nor can the Palestinians. It's more complicated than what can be placed on a picket fence. So, to those of you who are reading this, and are relatively impartial when it comes to the conflict, please choose not the path of pettiness and blame-shifting. Please choose the path toward peace, toward a viable, long-term, and satisfactory two-state solution.

A step toward peace is not divesting from Israeli companies. A step toward peace is not claiming that Israel is an apartheid state. A step toward peace is inspiring an atmosphere that rejects violence as a mean of gaining independence. A step toward peace is motivating the indifferent to join a pursuit of peace; not a pursuit of alienation and condemnation.