The words were so familiar it took a second for me to realize just how out of
place they were. “Mind the gap,” read the white lettering at the station. But
this was not the iconic warning of London’s Underground; the slogan ran
alongside a light rail stop on Jerusalem’s Jaffa Road.
At first I thought
it might be a joke – a kind of sophisticated graffiti so much pleasanter than
the messages spray painted in the stairwell of Women of the Wall board member
Peggy Cidor this week.
But it turns out that there was a different point
behind the humor.
Two students from the Bezalel Academy of Arts and
Design had carefully set down the letters as part of an installation with the
aim of using art to create a disturbance in the public sphere.
two, Moran Gibson and Maya Zakin, were excited by how excited I was and duly
took photos of me taking photos of their work. The result was a blurring of the
borders of art imitating life, creating the sort of infinity effect you get when
passing between two mirrors.
It was that kind of week. Blurred borders,
fun and serious; a week in which the “Mind the gap” caution seemed particularly
I often whistle and sing while I work, leading one former editor to
grumpily declare me “disgustingly perky.” This week I whistled and sang “I
Whistle a Happy Tune” from The King and I
– another case of life imitating art,
Unlike Anna the English schoolteacher, I wasn’t whistling
because I was afraid; it was because I had attended an amateur but accomplished
performance of the show, put on by Israel Musicals and JEST (Jerusalem English
And that, too, seemed particularly appropriate given
the story of the English governess’s experiences “getting to know all about” the
King of Siam and the royal household.
As the publicity blurb puts it,
“The King and I
represents one of the main challenges of humanity – how to
relate to and accept those who are different from ‘us.’” Unfortunately, while on
stage there was an attraction of opposites between the king and the person he
declared “a very difficult woman,” in real life there was an ongoing culture
Much of it focused on the friction between the Women of the Wall
and the ultra-Orthodox, a battle now being fought as much in cyber space and on
the pages of The New York Times and other foreign media as at the Kotel
“It’s a puzzlement,” as the King of Siam might have said, or as
Oscar Hammerstein put it so successfully to the music of Richard Rodgers: When I
was a boy
World was better spot.
What was so was so,
What was not was
Now I am a man;
World have changed a lot.
Some things nearly
Others nearly not.
“WHICH SIDE do you support?” asked a reader
recently, inadvertently summing up precisely my dilemma. It has become a matter
of “sides” and a “battle” – and I don’t think there can be any victors in this
war. Progress is a positive process – slower but less violent than revolutions;
it comes from within, through education, not fighting.
If this is about
civil liberties, the Western Wall, a sacred site, should not be the venue for
it. The courts and the Knesset are the proper forum.
Every time the
rhetoric includes mention of the American civil rights campaign, I feel the
story is becoming more and more distorted, like those multiple mirror images
that no longer portray a clear picture.
Readers abroad, or outside
Jerusalem, might be forgiven for thinking that all Israeli women have been
banished from the public sphere in the capital, forced to sit at the back of its
buses, and victimized for doing anything resembling equality.
image which helps raise funds but is good for nothing else.
nothing else: It does encourage some women MKs from Meretz and Labor to arrive
for Rosh Hodesh prayers. This could almost be taken as a sign of the miraculous,
for these are not women who usually attend religious services, or at least
services without media coverage.
Unfortunately, I suspect the chance to
strike another blow at the haredim – the other – is too good to miss.
ultra-Orthodox are also not without blame. Those who hurled abuse and worse at
the WOW worshipers are clearly guilty of desecrating the holy site and religion
they profess to protect.
The one thing that does not happen at the mass
monthly services – on either side – is true prayer. The Rosh Hodesh run-in has
become so predictable that for those who truly want to pray without distraction,
the Western Wall is the last place they’d go. For all the talk of making the
Wall open to everyone, the main effect has been to drive people away and detract
from its sanctity.
Similarly, that thousands of haredim can mobilize
outside the local IDF recruitment offices, to protest plans to abolish the
almost wholesale conscription exemptions, is also curious.
But it is no
stranger than the inherent inconsistency in planning to cut the IDF’s budget and
the length of mandatory service because of the costs while discussing the mass
draft of thousands of recruits – many of whom would need to be paid the higher
wages earned by married men and fathers.
There were other puzzlements
this week, too.
As the tension increased on the northern border, with
Bashar Assad’s forces occasionally firing on Israeli soldiers – to serve his own
needs in his civil war – Israel continued with its export of apples grown by
Druse residents of the Golan to Syria.
Israeli doctors, meanwhile, are
treating Syrian wounded, and earlier this month, as part of the Save a Child’s
Heart project, performed cardiac surgery on a four-year-old girl whose family
had fled Syria for Jordan.
While the surgeons fought for the life of the
girl (whose name cannot be published for fear that she will be harmed by her
compatriots), Israel continued to battle the allegations of apartheid. A
The country’s growing financial problems also continue to
make headlines. Here, the writing on the wall should read: Mind the growing
There is a built-in perplexity in the national budget proposals. If
taxes and the costs of basic services go up, people will, as much as possible,
stop spending. This is not the way to help the economy grow. On the
In an excruciatingly painful incident this week, Israelis – who
are used to war and terror – discovered something worse: a lone gunman’s rampage
which took the lives of four random victims.
To place the blame for
Itamar Alon’s shooting spree at a bank in Beersheba on his economic woes is a
form of exploitation. Many, many ordinary citizens struggling to make ends meet
are angered at the tycoons who metaphorically make a killing but fail to pay
their debts. It doesn’t lead them to murder.
As I wrote last year, Moshe
Silman, who self-immolated at a social protest, should not be considered a
martyr for killing himself, and Alon should not be considered a victim of the
The shoot-out seemed so American, said Israelis.
Americans receive a narrow picture of life in Israel, so our prism of life
overseas is similarly distorted.
As the art students Gibson and Zakin
discovered, some passersby smiled when they saw something so “foreign” in the
center of Jerusalem, others simply stared and didn’t understand what it was
Mind the gap, indeed. And feel free to join me – wherever
you are – in the chorus of “Getting to know you.”
The writer is the
editor of The International Jerusalem Post.