Thursday, May 04, 2006


Only one person called me on it. It was David, a kid who I haven't seen since he was 8 years old and charming the pants off of everybody at our camp. We were at an innocuously massive bonfire/drumming extravaganza in the middle of downtown Jerusalem, at Ronen Jembe the jembe maker's studio/apartment/secret garden, when this blond kid came up and asked me if I was I me. I was, and I told him so. I asked him if he was his older brother and he said no. Then I remembered him.

In the last ten years he has become even more charming than I remember and a self-declared right-wing religious fundamentalist, though you wouldn't know it from looking at him (whatever that means). He told me he was going to the army next year because Jews are a warrior nation and as a Jew, he had to be a warrior. He said his yeshiva in Gush Etzion was full of 'lefty liberals,' he told me he wouldn't question the morality of anything in the torah because why would he question the morality of something god told us to do, he told me if a baby was born and he saw that it came from Amalek he hoped he would be able to kill it, he asked why he should go somewhere besides Israel to learn about himself, and he told me he firmly believed that Jews are superior. When I asked if he had ever read any Ze'ev Jabotinsky, he looked at me and said, "that's my man!"

The whole time we talked he was laughing, not because any of it was a joke, but because the truth of it to him was so clear, it was ridiculous.

He told me he could never be a real hippie because of his political leanings (though it has a totally different meaning in this country) and then he called us on it, our raison d'etre, our reason for partying and drum-banging and guitar-strumming and flying-high around the fire.

"I doubt how much any of these people really mean it," he said.

He could have meant a thousand things, but it turned out he meant, "how many people here do you think are dancing because it's Israel's 58th birthday? They'd be doing the same thing at a Phish show."

It was only when he said it that I remembered it was Independence Day. I'd remembered by name, but I'd forgotten what it meant. When I was kid it meant these romantic images of Jewish pioneers and partisans, heros and brave hearts, flying the flag of Israel, secure at home. For David, that's still what it means, and for my grandmother too, and for my father, and somewhere, for me too, but none of it makes any sense.

While we were dancing and barbequing more than 2,000 Israeli Arabs and Jews were marching in Daliat al-Carmel to mark 58 years since Naqba Day, the term Arabs use in reference to their defeat in Israel's 1948 war of independence. Do native Americans do this on the fourth of July?

The park in Jerusalem was stuffed with people and grills the whole day, everybody had the day off (except me, I had to be at work at 4), and the place looked like a war zone carnival, all smoke and bodies and noise.

But when I got into Tel Aviv, it was a totally different celebration. I know over in my neighborhood there was a street party, and the beaches and parks were probably filled, but at least by the bus station, independence day was despressing. I saw three separate men sleeping deeply on three separate empty sidewalks, and a lone family making a barbeque in front of a crumbling building on a corner street.

I wonder what people were thinking about the meaning of the day. For some it was a fiercly patriotic day of historical permission to shoot fists up in victory and say, 'look at me, I'm in holiday heaven and this is my homeland, I'm home.' And for others it was a time to say, 'yes, I know I vote and I know I sit in Knesset and I know I say I'm happy being an Arab with Israeli citizenship, but today I'm showing you what I really think, and what I really think is that today symbolizes the day I traded one freedom for another, and here I am in solidarity with my brothers who didn't take the choice." And for everyone else, it was just a free day to relax.

And one day later? One day later the grand synagogue in Petah Tikvah was covered in swastikas, and then elected Yisrael Beiteinu head and member of Knesset Avigdor Lieberman went all out and said what he'd been trying to say all this time, that Arabs in Knesset who show loyalty to anyone besides Jews should be executed. And everyone else started thinking about Lag Ba'Omer and the next big bonfire.

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