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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Congruent Holy Days

Okay, I don't know any Arabs here other than my pharmacist and the guy in charge of repairs in our building.Before coming to Israel, the only Arabs or Moslems that I knew were from college. They were all grad students, the creme de la creme of the California University system. They were funny, hospitable, loved their families deeply, and were convinced that Islam was The Answer to everything wrong with their countries. Islam, especially of the jihadi brand, was not seen as a program of world-wide conquest by them, and the only "anti-American" sentiment they expressed was one of disgust for America's support of the Arab dictatorial leaders and Iran's Shah. Apart from that, they liked the United States, especially its freedom of expression which was so notably lacking in their own countries. One of them was my roommate, and from her I learned to love Iranian food, soccer and an appreciation of a deeper piety than what is usually seen in post-Enlightenment America.

The Iranians among them went from modern dress to covering their wives with chadors during my four years on campus, prior to the Return of the Ayatollah. They were sure that an Islamic society would do away with the Shah's secret police and torture/interrogation, dispense with the rule of fear and replace it with the wisdom and justice of the Koran. Everyone would get a fair shake and there would be no corruption, no injustice and no immorality.

They were idealists. They were also wrong about the Ayatollah and an Islamic republic, and I often wonder what they make of the difference between their dreams for the future and the reality that now exists? The men were focused on getting advanced degrees in order to support their families, make a good living and help their younger siblings. The women were traditional enough to believe that a graduate degree was a plus in the job market but that marriage and children were more important.

They were not extremists. There was no overt hate albeit there was a great deal of anger when Moshe Dayan came to campus to speak. There was a lot of (IMHO misplaced and misinformed) anger about Israel among the non-Iranians. The Arabs saw themselves as champions of the underdog Palestinians; the Iranians were simply opposed to anything the Shah favored. Most liked the United States and saw no conflict with being an observant (in a masorti sort of way) believer in our college community.

Needless to say, despite this early acquaintance with friends and roommates of the Moslem persuasion, my liking for these individuals is today somewhat overshadowed by my general distrust of all things Moslem and Arab. Thirty years of airplane hijackings, suicide bombings, videotaped beheadings and other instances of mass murder coupled with increasingly shrill jihadi rhetoric and oppression of women and minorities has made me look askance at anything Islamic.

It's hard to feel well disposed towards a self-professed Islamic regime that states its primary goal is Jewish genocide.

So, living here under the Katyushas of Hezbollah, the Kassams of Hamas, and the Shahabs of Iran and Syria with their accompanying payloads of chemical and biological weapons, it is sometimes difficult to feel well-disposed towards Israeli Arabs in our immediate neighborhood. It is no secret that many Israeli Arabs sympathize with Hamas and wish for the eradication of the State of Israel. They are convinced, despite all evidence to the contrary, that Israeli Jews are simply Europeans who can be convinced to move back to Europe, that continent which has been drenched in Jewish blood for centuries. They are as ignorant of Jewish history, demographics (over half of the Jews in Israel are from Middle Eastern countries) and belief as we are ignorant of theirs.

I'm well-educated and well-trained enough to behave myself in public with appropriate etiquette, and I treat all people with the same level of courtesy -- which I find oddly difficult when I see women in hijab and men wearing keffiyahs.

Don't get me wrong--I like hijab. I cover my hair and I think the hijab is more attractive than the tichel, frankly. It's not the couture--its what it symbolizes that makes me tread cautiously around such fashion statements.

Now and then, there is a stabbing in Jerusalem of a Jew (or in one sad case of mistaken ethnic identity, an Italian peace proponent who came to Jerusalem to help set up children's summer camps for disadvantaged Palestinian children) for nationalist reasons; in the last week, three attempts at suicide bombings were intercepted, one INSIDE the Green Line; Kassams continue to pound Sderot and other southern venues.

Nonetheless, this last week, Rosh Hashanah and Ramadan started at almost the same exact time: our new moon of the month of Tishrei appeared on Wednesday night and Ramadan started the next day. Over the next three weeks, we celebrate the High Holy Days, then Sukkot and finally Simchat Torah. Islam has a month of fasting, religious introspection followed by feasting every night after the day's fast. The lights of East Jerusalem are brighter than I've ever seen them, with every house lit up at night; the sheruts are packed full of people coming to visit relatives.

We have more in common than we have which is different. Religious women cover their hair; we pray five times a day, also, although we describe it as three times per day (I'm counting the Morning Blessings and the Prayer Before Retiring as two separate periods); we keep kosher, they keep halal; we thank the Merciful One for our food and pray that our children will keep the faith, marry well and raise observant children. We turn to G-d in supplication when things go wrong and in thanks for what we do have. A scholar once told me that "Ha El" in Hebrew is the same as "Allah" in Arabic.

We walked home after Shabbat dinner and proceeded via the Tayelet, that beautiful promenade that looks down across the Peace Forest towards the Old City, the Kotel and the Dome of the Rock. Unlike summer, when the Tayelet is packed with families, it was quiet this Friday night. There was a scattering of Jewish families out for a walk and a few Moslem families sitting along the wall, enjoying the view and trying to avoid the stiff breeze.

I looked at one family that had tucked itself into a seating alcove lined with stone benches. I saw two women in hijab sitting next to what appeared to be husbands or brothers and someone's grandfather and a couple of young children.

"Why not?" I wondered. I raised my hand and waved. "Chag Sameach!" (trans: Happy Holiday) I called out to them. The men, startled, said nothing -- after all, I was with my husband and son. The women smiled broadly, waved, and called back, "Shabbat shalom!"

Photo courtesy of Michael Myers at http://www.netaxs.com/~mhmyers/moon.tn.html


Blogger Jill said...

By Rabbi David Aaron:

Yom Kippur is all about love and forgiveness. The Talmud teaches that in this world when something good happens to us, we praise G-d--"Blessed is He who is good and does good." When something bad happens we must say--"Blessed is He who is a true Judge." However, in the future we will say, "Blessed is He who is good and does good," even about the misfortunes in our lives.

It seems to me that you have just 'jump started' the true meaning of Yom Kippur by extending your well wishes and sowing the seeds of goodness.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007 at 6:50:00 PM GMT+2  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You know, I sometimes think that if the Arabs stopped trying to kill us, we could be great friends! (and no, I am not being sarcastic)

Gmar Chatima Tova.

Thursday, September 20, 2007 at 12:45:00 PM GMT+2  
Blogger tafka PP said...

Good for you! Last week I was very smiley after I got a "Shana Tova" back from one of my devoutest Muslim colleagues (I'd just wished him "Ramadan Kareem", and he was just as smiley.)

(See, haven't completely disappeared!)

Thursday, September 20, 2007 at 1:03:00 PM GMT+2  
Blogger aliyah06 said...

Jilly--thanks, hon--we have you and yours in mind tonight...

westbankmama--I think so too--there is precedent throughout history for such friendship but as much as I wish for it, I don't see it happening any time soon. Tzom kal!

tafka pp: good to hear from you! And thanks for the tip--I wasn't sure how to say it in Arabic--I was pretty sure "Ramadan Sameach" wasn't correct [grin].

Friday, September 21, 2007 at 2:41:00 PM GMT+2  

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