A mosque in Abu Ghosh with its minarets towering above.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Even if you have the wildest imagination, there are times you just can’t make up some of the stuff that winds up in the news.
I’m not talking about the incredulous reality of Donald Trump being elected president of the United States – Philip Roth and Back to the Future II managed to hit that one pretty close to the head.
But here at home, how unlikely and quaintly Israeli is it that the country’s ultra-Orthodox and Arab citizens formed an inadvertent but vocal alliance against a proposed bill that would have curbed their respective religion-based clatter? Well, it turns out that maybe it’s not such a weird case of strange bedfellows as it looks. Although the bill was designed to target the volume of loudspeakers outside religious institutions (i.e. mosques), Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman evidently heard some voices in his head telling him that it could also be interpreted as banning the nationwide sirens that announce the onset of Shabbat. Arab MKs also generated some white noise of their own, calling the bill racist an in over-the-top attack on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, while failing to address how the amplified meuzzin’s call does in fact create a problem for some Jewish neighbors.
It’s a shame, because both the muezzin’s call to prayer and the Friday afternoon siren are fundamental elements of the Israeli mosaic, much like the heated name-calling debates in the Knesset plenum on our radio news programs, or the vendor in the shuk bellowing “Agvaniot!” at hyper volume.
They blend together to form the aural landscape of the messy soundtrack that engulfs our senses and assaults our ears – jarring and soothing at the same time, in a distinctly Middle East way.
Many times I’ve sat in my tranquil Ma’aleh Adumim back yard with a mug of coffee or a beer when i heard the muezzin’s call from nearby Azariya pierce the calm. Weird thing is, I’m so used to it that I rarely hear it – sort of like the wall that goes up blocking out your child’s repeated calls of “Daddy! Daddy!” Maybe I got used to the Muslim call to prayer while doing my reserve duty for 15 years, guarding Palestinians accused of security offenses at detention facilities throughout the country and the West Bank. Our tents were often literally next door to the prisoners, separated only by a fence and some trees, yet the pre-dawn muezzin barely caused a lid flutter. It served instead as an almost calming mantra, and a cautionary reminder during those first years after making aliya that, no, I wasn’t in Kansas anymore.
I certainly empathize with my fellow countrymen who are indeed disturbed at four in the morning by the meuzzin’s volume, which can carry like a shrill foghorn with the right wind current. But it’s far from the only noise pollution we have to deal with on a daily basis: there’s the thump thump thump of techno beats booming out of passing cars that look like they might explode from the vibrations; the sharp voices of the bickering couple in the apartment next door that penetrate walls more efficiently than Superman; and the car, bus, truck and train horns that drivers feel compelled to operate 24 hours a day, even if there’s no traffic.
Maybe instead of the muezzin bill, we need to pass a logic bill in the Knesset.
Does it makes sense to blast music outside at midnight? Can the volume on the mosque loudspeakers be lowered to reasonable levels? Can we try not to communicate on the road only with horns, but with smiles and nods? Can we make our points heard in the Knesset and on the radio without raising our voices in a crescendo? The answer is... probably not. For better or worse, those sounds help define the flavor of the region we live in – authentic as hummus and halva and just as zesty.
To change would be like asking Donald Trump to stop insulting people, or Benjamin Netanyahu to switch professions.
It’s who we are – loud and proud. That’s one point the country’s Jews and Muslims can agree on, with one raucous voice.
Now, can someone please help me get to a windowless room? I need some peace and quiet.The writer is managing editor of
The Jerusalem Post and co-author of
Goodbye Parkinson’s, Hello Life.