It''s hard to believe after a week of Gilad Shalit, but there are other happenings in this world that we share with the goyim. Today it was only necessary to reach page 12 in Ha''aretz to find something happening outside of Israel and its immediate neighbors. News from over the border concerned, of course, the receptions given to the Palestinian prisoners.


Tomorrow there will be no Ha''aretz. It is Simchas Torah. Jews will be dancing out of their synagogues with Torah scrolls.


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Among the items in today''s news: both Turkey and Syria, as well as Qatar, agreed to accept prisoners that Israel insisted be exiled beyond the West Bank and Gaza. While those governments will be touting their aid to Palestine, they are also cooperating with Israel.


Simchas Torah marks the end of Succot, a week-long holiday when religious Jews build temporary huts (succah, pl: succot) alongside their homes or on their balconies. It is a mitzvah (commandment) to eat or sleep in the succah, and Israel''s weather makes that tolerable. It is customary to decorate them with fruits, pictures, childs'' drawings, and the same kind of blinking lights (most likely of Chinese origin) that other folks put up on Christmas or Ramadan.


This year the holiday in French Hill has been marred by families thinking that the sidewalk is an appropriate place to erect their succah.


Agile walkers like us can make our way around the monstrosities. Not so the elderly religious man who lives a couple of doors away from one of them. He is confined to a wheel chair, and his neighbor''s succah is on the way to his synagogue.


Complaints to the municipality and the neighborhood community center brought forth either no response, or the information that the relevant staff is on holiday vacation. Officials actions involve warnings before any decisive action can occur, and the offending succot will be dismantled before that happens. Our approach to the family building one succah produced the response that it would be taken down after a week, and before the any official could act.


Sidewalk succot are more than inconveniences. They reflects the increasing incidence of Haredim in French Hill.


Just on the other side of the highway from the Old City to Ramallah is the formerly secular neighborhood of Ramat Eshkol. That fell to the Haredim several years ago. Ramat Eshkol went first, because it borders the long standing Haredi neighborhood alongside Rehov Bar Ilan, which itself borders the neighborhoods of Bucharim and Mea Shearim.


French Hill is one of the neighborhoods (along with Ramat Eshkol) built soon after the Six Day war of 1967. According to the Palestinians and the White House, they are occupied territory. According to Israel, they are integral parts of Jerusalem.


French Hill borders the Mt Scopus campus of the Hebrew University. In years past, the university subsidized housing for new faculty in the neighborhood. It remains a convenient and pleasant location, with a sizable incidence of academics along with a mixture of other professionals, plus middle and upper-middle class families of various occupations. It has been a mutually accommodating mixture of secular and religious Jews, with a few Haredi families.


As original families aged and died or moved to elder housing, a number of units became rentals. Prominent among the clientele are university students, either singles or young couples. They include Korean and Chinese Christians taking courses concerned with Bible, religion, or Judaism at the Hebrew University or at one of the Christian Institutes in the city. There are also young Arab singles and couples, students and others. A few Arab families have purchased housing.


The wall built between us and Arab towns in the West Bank has made its contribution to an increasing Arab population is French Hill and other mostly-Jewish neighborhoods near the city''s borders. Arabs Jerusalemites had moved to less expensive housing in nearby towns. The wall made their daily commute difficult, so they looked for housing within the city.


"Invasion" is a topic of conversation in French Hill. Some of the established residents object to all newcomers who would tip the existing mixture of secular and religious Jews, whether they be Arabs or Haredim. Some would accept a few more Arabs in preference over the Haredim. Others prefer the Haredim.


If the neighborhood becomes heavily Haredi, the ultimate threat would be a movement to block the roads on Shabbat and religious holidays, and the trashing of kiosks that dared sell secular newspapers. Less extreme, and more likely would be squabbles about the sounds of radio or television on Shabbat and religious holidays, and the insistence that buildings operate "Shabbat elevators." These operate throughout the Sabbath and religious holidays, stopping at every floor or every second floor. They make it possible for religious Jews to ride up or down without pushing any buttons. For non-religious residents, they mean greater expense and noise.


Already there is an increasing incidence of black suited men, women with long dresses and head coverings, often surrounded by clusters of children no more than a year apart in age.


This is the first year we have noticed succot blocking the sidewalk. Now there are three. We expect more next year.


Objections to Arabs deal with music that bothers some Jewish ears, as well as the entry into the neighborhood of people who threaen tension or worse. If the new residents themselves are not a problem, they may have relatives who would murder Jews at any opportunity.


Established residents can do nothing to prevent the entry of Haredim or Arabs to the neighborhood. Israel operates according to the laws of civilized western democracies, with a free market for real estate. One might urge a neighbor known to be selling an apartment to be concerned about the buyer, but that is about the limit of the actions available. Insofar as the early Haredim and Arab purchasers are likely to offer considerably more than the current market price of an apartment, a seller must have strong feelings in order to be concerned about the continued balance of the population.


Not an appropriate topic to compose on the eve of Simchas Torah?


Perhaps.


But no less of an offense to Jewish civility than succot blocking the sidewalk.


Chag sameach.

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