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