Pashkevil vs. Pashkevil

Haredi and secular Jerusalemites resort to an old-world means of communication to fight an ever-intensifying battle for the heart and soul of the capital.

pashkevil 248.88 (photo credit: Abe Selig)
pashkevil 248.88
(photo credit: Abe Selig)
Through the winding narrow streets and old stone courtyards of Mea She'arim, they can be seen everywhere - the pashkevilim, a Yiddish term for the often-fiery wall posters that are used to announce anything from the passing of a respected community member to clarified halachic rulings - prohibitions and permissions, protests and celebrations. Their language is often flowery, a mix of modern and biblical Hebrew, which might describe the recently deceased as the "fallen crown from our heads" or the Internet as "the cause of horrible disease and all of life's other troubles." But throughout Mea She'arim and Jerusalem's surrounding haredi enclaves of Mekor Baruch and Geula last week, pashkevilim began to appear with a rigorously incendiary message. Stating that the "Zionist Municipality" had "raised its battle sword against the holy Sabbath," the faithful were requested to voice their protest by congregating at "the location of the desecration" in the twilight hours of Saturday as a demonstration of their commitment to safeguarding God's holy day. The so-called "desecration" was the opening of a parking lot at city hall on Shabbat, and the posters' calls to "congregate" led to some of the worst rioting the city has seen in years as thousands of haredi men clashed violently with police officers, spit, threw dirty diapers and garbage before setting trash bins ablaze in the middle of the street and calling officers names such as "Nazi" and "Gestapo." The crowds were eventually dispersed, but as the trash bins and garbage still lay strewn in the streets Sunday morning, new pashkevilim went up. "The battle will continue!" they stated. "We will voice our objection to the desecration of the Sabbath with a proud step and defend the holy Sabbath that was given to us at Mount Sinai, and that our fathers have spilled a sea of blood for throughout the years of our expulsion. We have hope that the mistaken will learn understanding and return from their evil ways." But the "mistaken," in this sense Jerusalem's secular community and other non-observant Jews who come to the capital on Saturday, did not pay heed. Instead, a group of students and other young people decided to respond to the inflammatory posters and subsequent rioting with pashkevilim of their own - a "secular pashkevil" the likes of which have not graced the walls of Mea She'arim, or anywhere else for that matter, in recent memory. Drawing on the same flowery Hebrew in which the leading haredi groups pen their flyers, the secular vigilantes posted notices around town that stated, "Great Objection! May every soul be shocked at what their ears hear - that thousands of haredim, residents of the holy city of Jerusalem, may she be rebuilt speedily and in our days, rioted and set fire, threw rocks and diapers at police and filled their mouths with calls of "Nazi" and "Gestapo"! "And all of this for what?" the flyer asks. "According to the words of the rioters, it is because of a parking lot that was opened - operated by a non-Jew, for the law-abiding and tax-paying residents of Jerusalem on Shabbat - which is not a desecration of Shabbat or an attack on the sanctity of Israel." "And let us say," it continues, hinting at the language of the Kaddish prayer and then the Pessah Haggada, "if you don't serve in the army or pay your property taxes, Dayenu! If you don't pay your property taxes and don't work, Dayenu! If you don't go to work and you don't close down the city, Dayenu!" The flyer then follows with a call to Mayor Nir Barkat, who has found himself at the center of the storm. "Barkat, don't fold! Jerusalem, don't fall!" "The message is that Barkat should not break or surrender," one of the "secular pashkevil" participants told reporters. "It's not just that we're secular, we're Zionist residents of Jerusalem who pay taxes, and we chose Barkat and the secular parties to work for us. We want them to keep the promises they made during their campaign and not fold under this pressure." But back in Mea She'arim on Monday, the alternative pashkevil's message did not resonate. "The secular think that we hate them, but this is not the case at all," said a middle-aged haredi man as he sat in his shoe store. "The hatred comes from their politicians, who constantly stir up trouble - the secular don't know any better. If you don't want to return to the Torah, okay, but don't come here and bother us. This is Jerusalem, the holiest city, and they have all these ideas about what this fight is really about. But it's quite simple. It's about Shabbat, and we will never back down on this issue." Closer to the site of Saturday night's rioting, however, the rhetoric became more confrontational. Near the enclaves of the virulently anti-Zionist Neturei Karta and Eda Haredit - the latter being one of the main groups behind the anti-parking lot pashkevilim - an influx of other flyers became more and more visible. "Zionists and their collaborators out!" one of the posters screamed as a sticker of a Palestinian flag stood next to it. Other flyers, reading "Jews are not Zionists!" and "Annul the infidel state!" could also be seen nearby. And while some residents said that the parking lot fiasco was a separate issue from anti-Zionism, others felt the two were quite connected. "The Zionists have taken everything from us," said one passerby. "What have they left us - Mea She'arim? Bnei Brak? A few scraps of the Holy Land? Have you seen the way people live here, these tiny, cramped apartments? And now they want to open this parking lot on Shabbat? It's a clear sign that they reject the Torah and that they don't need the Torah because they have Zionism. If anything, they hate us." For now, the ball seems to be back in the secular court as they rally their side to the cause and pressure the politicians they helped put in office to crack down on the rioters and impose law and order in the city. But with another protest planned for this Saturday, Jerusalem's haredi residents will almost certainly be back at the forefront of this conflict as well, if not in the back of police cars and on the front page of the newspapers. "We won't relent," read another of Mea She'arim's anti-parking lot posters, "as far as the holy Torah and holy Sabbath are concerned."