October 14, 2008
Holidays – New Year, Yom Kippur, Succoth…
The contrast between the Jewish holidays during these 2 weeks are quite extreme. By chance, I was in Zefat on the eve of Succoth. Zefat is a special town in the hills of northern Israel. A special mixture of very religious – it is a major Torah learning centre – and secular artists.
It was lovely to see the work going on, buying the various necessities for the holiday, and constructing the succahs. These are usually wood-framed and covered with palm leaves. A place to eat, sleep and welcome guests and friends. Some religious communities really do stick to the traditional ways of remaining in the Succah for the whole week. Others less so, but certainly let the kids enjoy the Jewish equivalent of sleeping in a tent.
The 1st attached photo is of our great-nephew, Yarden, the one on the left, with one of his friends. His Succah is small, but very beautiful. It says ‘Welcome to my Succah’. The 2nd is of sunset over Zefat. If you look at the lower centre of the pic., you will see a guy standing on a roof inside his half-finished Succah.
So how’s Israel surviving during this financial crisis, I am asked? Well, the domino effect certainly reaches here. But, surprisingly, the Shekel has learnt to ‘float’ on it’s own. Yes, the stock market is crazy here, but that’s the same worldwide. The fact is that Israel constantly has so many crises. In addition to Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, Gaza, West Bank etc., we have…
1. The upcoming elections for Mayor of Jerusalem. Real chance that the Haredim, the very religious, will take even tighter control, and that will mean an exodus of the secular.
2. The current attempts by Tsipi Livni to form a coalition government. The deadline is in about 3 weeks, and it is expected that the last 2-3 days will be night & day hectic fights for special favours. E.g., the Shas party, the religious Sephardic community, insist on heavy financial support for large families for their support.
3. And then there is the ever-cooking hotpot of the tension between the Jewish and Arab Israelis. This came to a head over the Yom Kippur break. The ‘straw that broke the camel’s back’ was a silly Arab who drove his car in a Jewish quarter (the Crusader town is one of the several mixed towns in Israel) as an apparent provocation. There is a very strong unwritten law that cars are not driven during those 24 hours (except emergency vehicles of course).
So the Jews went into the street, so the Arabs went into the streets. Windows were smashed, cars set on fire…the usual stuff. The police (made up, of course, of both Arabs and Jews) eventually broke it up. This week’s annual Israeli Theatre Festival has been cancelled, which is a financial disaster for the town. But there are now attempts to re-instate the festival, which is due to begin on Wednesday this week. President Shimon Peres has himself got involved.
When you think about it, it’s perhaps surprising that the Arab community in Israel, both Christian and Moslem, survives so peacefully. They are almost a quarter of the population, they have official equality (I have touched this subject before: they complain, but actually do not have much more to complain about than any of the minority groups in this country, including the Russian and Ethiopian communities).
It is still quite rare for problems to get out of hand. (Late last week, there was a riot in one of the Palestinian refugee camps in Syria, a country that gives these people no passport, no land rights, no future. Just stay in the camps and shut-up. This riot lasted 3-4 hours, causing 4 deaths and many wounded. It’s all relative).
But there is certainly a big problem brewing. The longer there is no peace with the Palestinians, no 2-country solution with peace and security, then the Arabs in Israel will be forced, by media, by extremists, by history, to become more and more frustrated – and I suppose I must say the same for the Israelis. It’s not so easy to differentiate between a good neighbour and a bad one, when they claim to be one.