PostScript: Illuminating coincidences

The irony of the military induction center's location; a realization about Hanukka, and a surprising haredi performance.

By HIRSH GOODMAN
December 22, 2011 21:13
4 minute read.
SHULI RAND

SHULI RAND 311. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

The military induction center in Jerusalem is, with obvious irony, in the middle of an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood. For generations now, Jerusalem’s teenagers, taking their first step along the path to compulsory military service, have had to wade through an ever-growing mass of haredi teenagers who are almost automatically exempted from doing the same.

That this is patently absurd, void of logic, grossly discriminatory, unfair, the root of resentment, social unrest, even hatred, is nothing new. It became personal the other day, however, when one of the kids in line waiting to be inducted was our son Gavriel, and this became the third time I have gone through the process.

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“Must be mad,” I thought to myself, a total “freier,” the word Israelis like to use when referring to a “sucker.”

The scam is just so obvious it would be funny if it were not so potentially disastrous in its consequences. This is a time bomb waiting to explode in our life time, and if you doubt it, get off at the central bus station, take a right, walk a few blocks and turn left at the felafel stand and ask for directions.

So that was my first illuminating coincidence: Gavriel having to walk through a sea of black to go and join the Israeli army.

Then, at work, we met to have the traditional sufgania (doughnut) and cola and, as usual, a very wise member of our staff gave his interpretation of then and now, relating to our work on strategic issues and the festival at hand. Hanukka, he said, is the only festival not mentioned in the Mishna.

The reason, he said, was unknown but widely believed to be that it represented a period of history the Jews wanted to forget, put aside. It was a period of militancy and conquest, of injudicious fights against the superpowers of the day and, most destructively of all, when the division between state and religion was broken down, when the priests took over government, and those who claimed to represent God became gods themselves.

Those who passed on the Oral Law wanted to leave this chapter out of Jewish history, but public memory apparently kept it alive until it evolved into what we know as Hanukka today, essentially the oldest renewable energy story on earth.

That was the second illumination of the day: The festival of light actually symbolizes a period of darkness and self-destruction in Jewish history, and a distinctive feeling that sometimes legends are probably better left alone.

That night I went to a lovely performance by haredi performer Shuli Rand at the Jerusalem Zappa Club. I would not have dreamed of going had not a friend insisted, and I will remain ever grateful for a wonderful and heart-warming evening that came as my third, and most gratifying, illumination.

The Zappa Club, in the stockyard of the old railway station, is as cool as can be, with black walls, subdued art, and good sound, lighting and food. Rand was magnificent in long coat, Tuvia-milkman hat and flowing white bread. The musicians were all male. Not one of them had a kippa. One had a Mohawk and an ear ring. They could not have been more different.

The harmony between them, however, could not have been more perfect.

They were terrific, but the star of the evening was without doubt the audience: men and women, non-observant and religious, crocheted kippot and shtreimels, all swaying, clapping, humming and enjoying a cross-cultural experience, a Jewish experience, in what is supposed to be the capital of the Jewish world, an all-too-rare and treasured occasion.

From the morning’s tensions, and dark thoughts with Gavriel’s induction, to the revelation that Hanukka was actually about darkness, it was an intense day.

Thankfully it ended with an experience of what it could be like if we could only see the light in the darkness.

The messages were clear: the status quo has to change, the “black sea” has to be parted, there is an urgent need for national service for all before the country implodes. Censorship never works. Even the mighty Mishna could not hide history, and ultimately there is nothing stronger than the tongue. State and religion have to be kept apart. Be careful with whom you pick your fights, and treasure national unity above all. And, when down and out and depressed, go light candles with Shuli Rand and his band at Zappa, and Hanukka may sparkle once again.

It is time to see the light.

The writer is a senior research associate at the Institute for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University. His most recent book, The Anatomy of Israel’s Survival, was published by Public Affairs, New York, in the fall.


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