Friday, July 1, 2011

Headache Among the Believers

We spend Shabbat afternoon with beloved friends who live beyond the Green Line in the Judean hills. They were in the first group of eighteen settlers to break ground here, to scrabble their desert plot into lovely terraced gardens, and on it to build the house they still inhabit thirty-two years later. Across the road lies the vastness of desert which two months ago was a rolling sea of poppies, daisies, and fragrant, healing, herbs, and now is a magnificent sunburnt barrenness. Beyond it, in the distance, Jerusalem, Ramallah, Jericho, Jordan. Their love for this place is in their bones, and aching. And yet, even after Ariel Sharon’s disengagement fiasco, and the (providential if unsurprising) Arab rejection of Ehud Olmert’s insanely munificent convergence offer, our friends saw they might be required to relinquish it, and were prepared to do so, albeit brokenheartedly, if it meant peace with the Palestinians. Now, with Hamas rising on the horizon, even the leftiest Israeli Leftist is forced to concede that prospects for Two States Living Side By Side In Perfect Harmony—which were dim enough without Hamas—are looking piss-poor. As usual in Israel, whether with heartbroken settlers or passionate city-dwellers, talk turns to the Arabs, Israeli politics, and the “Middle East Peace” that’s always, always, always on Israeli minds. This trip we also argue about Bibi Netanyahu’s smackdown of Barack Obama—I take the pro side, fervently, but the Israelis at the table worry Bibi has damaged U.S.-Israel relations (surely not greater damage than the harm Mr. Obama has done already?)—and, of course, we speak of the Arab Spring, and cabbages and kings.

No one mentions the months-longyears-long, really—problem of rock-throwing, trash-burning, tire-hurling, dirty-diaper-tossing haredi [ultra-Orthodox] men rioting every Shabbat against the municipality of Jerusalem—total Torah immersion not sufficiently thrilling to heat up the anti-Zionist blood, hmm?—over a variety of offenses, including the refusal to close a street abutting Mea Shearim, whose large crossroads and warren of narrow streets become boulevards on Shabbat for men strolling in their beaver hats, boys with payis curling to their shoulders, women in their wigs, girls covered to wrists and ankles; and the unwillingness to shut down a parking lot near the Old City that was built to accommodate secular tourists, foreign and Israeli alike, who come, inter alia, to pray at the Western Wall. This stuff just doesn’t much interest the people with whom we are breaking bread. 

But my husband and I get to have a brush with it. We sail through the checkpoint on the way back across the Green Line to Jerusalem, and almost immediately take a wrong turn. Though we have a GPS in the car, he hasn’t turned it on, because he knows where he’s going—and he’s making really good time getting there, too!! Eventually, he realizes he doesn’t actually know where he’s going, and he activates the guidance. Yet even with Robot Girl telling us what to do, we are lost on an unfamiliar road in a part of Jerusalem neither one of us recognizes. Uphill to our left is what looks like a techy office area; downhill to our right is the Zionist Racist Apartheid Wall. As we pass along at warp speed I say out loud to Mr. Leadfoot, the only person within earshot,  “F*** you, Arabs!” Then rant on in my head so as not to further irritate an already irritated driver who hates getting lost and almost never does so: “This partition was their choice. They could have had their state sixty-three years ago, if only they’d accepted the original partition instead of going to war against the Jews. Blah, blah, blah.” I’d be pacing back and forth if not for being trapped in a car.

Suddenly, we are on a completely empty street—not a car or a soul in sight—and just as suddenly, we are in the midst of a throng:  We have wandered into Mea Shearim. On Shabbat. It isn’t Robot Girl’s fault. How can she know that this is a closed-off enclave on the Sabbath? We can’t take any of the streets she wants us to take because there are roadblocks on them (where was the roadblock to keep us out of here, by the way?). The people ambling leisurely along like shtetl-dwellers of the nineteenth century are horrified at the sight of a forbidden car (engine, spark, drive) carrying a female passenger dressed immodestly in shorts and a T-shirt. The beaver-hatted men and their curly-locked sons start their own engines: “SHABBES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! SHABBES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! SHABBES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” they shriek at us, as if we didnt already know it’s Shabbes, as if we want to be there offending them. We speed up and down streets as wide as pencils in our increasingly desperation-filled mini-car; I cower, waiting for the stoning to begin. I hear myself saying “F*** YOU” again, only this time I’m screaming (windows closed), terrified we’re going to get stuck here forever, and I will have to shave my head and wear a wig with a shmatte on top of it and drag myself around in a long-sleeved shirt buttoned up to my ears and a skirt hanging down to my ankles and black tights underneath it all in the dead of summer and . . . and . . . and . . . all at once were out of there!  My husband has maneuvered us around a roadblock and back to the present. Escape! Zionism! The Jewish State! Air conditioning! And though my head is splitting, I remember to thank God that the stone-throwers among the haredim have trotted off downtown to spend yet another Shabbat hurling their bodies at drivers violating the Sabbath in secular Jerusalem, and not remained behind to hurl stones at two secular Jews violating Shabbat in Mea Shearim.  

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