Provincial life in the Middle east

 In Disney''s ''Beauty and the Beast'', longing for adventure beyond the cultural limitations of the small town in which she lives, Belle sings out... ''There must be more than this provincial life'', which I posted as my Facebook status a few weeks ago. My friend questioned my reference and then conceded, ''well I guess there''s west provincial and east provincial'', to which I replied ''...and middle-east provincial''. 


I''ve certainly had a taste of Middle-East provincial this week.  


Apart from the usual ''Iranian Missiles Can Now Reach Your Childs Classroom'' and '' Hamas Doesn''t Really Want Peace After All'', some interesting articles made their way onto my Facebook page this week. The first was a Ha''aretz report about the courageous Tanya Rosenblit who refused to sit at the back of the bus with the rest of the Negroes...I mean women.  In an ironic turn of events, a ''black'' (read Haredi) man held the doors of the bus open for half an hour refusing to get on and refusing to leave until the bus driver was forced to call in the police. When Tanya still refused to move the Haredi man gave up his fight and left with no apology to the hundreds of travellers inconvenienced by his zealous objections.  So much for "What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbour: that is the whole Torah while the rest is commentary; go learn it" - Hillel


Just days before I read how Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world which bans women from driving for fear of creating a society in which within ten years there will be no virgins left in the country, proving for once and for all that driving leads to sexual promiscuity. Then I read about a Muslim cleric in Europe who wants to ban Muslim women from cutting cucumbers and bananas for fear that handling such phallic shaped foods might ignite sexual thoughts.  While I am not in a position to comment on the thoughts that go through the minds of millions of women handling cucumbers, carrots, banana''s and zuccini''s each day, I can guarantee you that in my twenty years of preparing meals using these foods, phallic references were only ever made by men.  Though in light of recent readings I can think of some very good reasons why women should be prohibited from using very sharp instruments around phallic shaped objects.  


The next piece was an inspiring story about a west bank Rabb,i Menachem Froman who encouraged men and women to play music together after a more radical view was put forward by Rabbi Elyakim Lebanon, who apparently said it is preferable to face a firing squad than to listen to a woman sing.  Bevakasha, I say, unless of course the firing squad is made up of women in which case the rabbi has a real problem, though he could always request a mechitza, (a separation device) this being the Middle East and all.


My final provincial experience came in the form of a little notice stuck on the back of the toilet door in a lovely little cafe in the quaint, provincial town of Zichron Yaakov.  The note read: Please throw the papers into the garbage. I clarified with the head waiter, who confirmed my suspicions that papers refers to: the toilet paper after you have wiped your ass with it. The garbage being a small open and overfilled bin next to the toilet, and not, as one might imagine, a sealed sanitary disposal unit. I pointed out the possibility that western, Anglo customers might be somewhat put off by this note given that it was almost the year two thousand and twelve and we were sitting in a nice little boutique cafe in the middle of a somewhat civilised town ordering food.


My Israeli friends didn’t seem to have a problem with this charming practice and mumbled something about small pipes and blocked drains and suddenly I understood that this note which I had seen before on the back of many toilet doors, though never translated so eloquently into English, was actually common practice. Israeli''s throw their used toilet paper into an open bin.


Toiletries'' aside, on a more serious note, things heated up this week in Bet Shemesh after an eight year old girl was spat on and verbally abused by grown Haredi men because she walked in a public place which, according to their own signage, bans women. Feminist issues aside; that child is eight. Her innocent actions caused the entire country to wake up to the growing religious fanaticism that has come to misrepresents an otherwise intelligent and conscious, healthy, religious community, and it was heart warming to see how many Israeli''s turned up in the cold to support the family and demand justice and balance. Still as the daily events of a prehistoric mindset unfold before me from all corners of the Middle -East, I can''t help but join my friend Belle in singing out loud, to the horror of my Haredi neighbours, there must be more !


NOTE: The Haredi communities in Israel are referred to as ''black'' because of the dark clothes they wear, usually following the traditional garb worn by their European born Rebbe''s.