Yoni Leviatan
How to be Jewish: Be good. The end.

Being in the majority changes you

When motorcycles whizzed by on Yom Kippur, I wanted to force them to stop - until I realized I'd never felt that way in the Diaspora
Illustrative. One of the kids riding down he middle of the road without a care in the world, on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, October 4, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)
Illustrative. One of the kids riding down he middle of the road without a care in the world, on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, October 4, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

Yom Kippur in Yafo

A year ago, I moved from the Tel Aviv half of Tel Aviv-Yafo to the Jaffa side, where the rents are cheaper and the curse of construction is farther away.

The city is one of the few “mixed” ones, with Jews and Arabs living together (mostly) in peace. Jaffa is 37 percent Arab so Jews are still the majority, but not in the area where I live. Truth be told, I didn’t give it much thought at the time. I was so enchanted by the sight of the sea from my window that I somehow missed the big, fat mosque nestled in the view.

The mosque has never been a problem. You quickly get used to the prayer calls as they melt together with the sounds of motorcycles whizzing by loudly, along with bass-thumping cars driven by teenagers desperate to feel like they’re not.

The only time these sounds angered me was on my first Yom Kippur in Yafo. Though the prohibition on driving motorized vehicles is widely respected, even in mixed cities, it’s not a law and therefore cannot be enforced.

Last year on Erev Yom Kippur when I saw a few cars driving on my street quietly, I understood that these were people coming home late from work, or whatever they were doing somewhere else, and they were doing their very best not to disturb the peace (in many ways).

The next day was also mostly peaceful except for the few random cars who seemed to take pleasure in blasting music or revving their mufflers as they flew down the street, seemingly oblivious to the fact that there are children everywhere on bikes and scooters who naively believe they were alone in the road.

That day, I imagined myself as a sniper sitting on the roof picking off every single driver who dared to disturb the sound of silence.

But then I realized that wasn’t a very Yom Kippury way to deal with the issue so I tried to imagine it from another point of view. Not theirs — but mine when I lived in the Diaspora.

Suddenly I remembered that for 31 years I had no problem observing Yom Kippur in my home with no regard to what anyone else around me is doing. I also reminded myself of all the Christmases and Easters I celebrated by truly not giving a f**k.

Being in the majority changes you.

Perspective is everything

The most memorable lesson I received in perspective was in seventh grade when the teacher put a can of Pepsi on the table and asked everyone what they saw. Half the class saw “PEP” and the other half saw “PSI.”

Simple to learn, easy to remember, like all good lessons. And we see this lesson played out all the time when talking about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Described like that, Israelis are the majority — but not so in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Perspective is everything, even more so this year, after nine months of severe Jewish tensions over the nature and character of the world’s only Jewish state.

Therefore, this year on Yom Kippur, I had much more tolerance for the odd motorcycle or music-blasting car that drove by. Partly because I already knew to expect it and made my peace ahead of time, and partly because I’m starting to feel like a minority again even in my own land.

It has nothing to do with the mosque or the motorcycles.

The lonely middle

Every day, it seems that more and more people are choosing a side in Israel that was never meant to be a side. Jewish and democratic was the intent – not Jewish or democratic.

I don’t want one without the other. That’s not what we signed up for, yet it feels like we’re being asked (forced?) to choose.

Israeli Jews have always been the majority in Israel. It is the proverbial blessing and curse. The blessings we all know. The curse is that native-born Israeli Jews have no understanding of how it feels to be a minority.

At least they didn’t until now.

Now there are many secular Israelis who feel like a minority in the face of creeping religionization in the public square.

There are also many religious Israelis who feel like a minority when faced with draconian opposition to any hint of religious expression.

Few people seem to realize that if one side wins, then we all lose.

It’s very lonely in the middle.

Ordinary vs. Extraordinary

Our perspective as a people has changed over the last century more than it has in all the other centuries combined. There are unintended consequences to seeing yourself as the majority. One is that you stop trying so hard to succeed simply because you don’t have to.

There are no more obstacles to overcome once you regain your state for the third time after 2,000 years.

This no doubt plays a part in why five out of the top six high schools in Israel are Arab. They must try twice as hard to achieve half as much, so they do. Arabs are 20% of the population, yet 30% of the doctors and 50% of the medical students.

Arab Israelis are the new Diaspora Jews.

Being in the majority so suddenly after centuries of minority status is not just extraordinary — it has made Israeli Jews quite ordinary within the state.

But our country remains extraordinary because it’s a minority within the region and even more so in the world. It must try twice as hard to achieve half as much. Israel has the mentality of a minority even though most of its citizens do not.

The other major consequence of being in the majority is that you become more intolerant to whomever is not.

The majority in our government appears harshly intolerant to the voices of the minority screaming out every week across the country, “De-mo-cra-tia.”

The majority in my beloved Tel Aviv-Yafo appears just as intolerant at any mention of Judaism, the source of all meaning behind this thing we call a Jewish state.

Being in the majority changes your perspective. It changes it so much that you even start to lose it.

Those who want Israel to be Jewish or democratic at the cost of one or the other are damning us all to be very ordinary, at best.

Let’s hope that nobody wins so Israel can remain as extraordinary as its people.

About the Author
Yoni Leviatan is a British-born, American-raised, Israeli-blooded musician, content producer and writer. His songs have been licensed to MTV, CNN, ESPN, PBS and others while receiving nationwide airplay on over 200 American radio stations. His production work has led to projects with Warner Bros., Waves Audio, Abbey Road Studios, YouTube and Spotify. Originally from Coral Springs, Florida, he's been living in Tel Aviv since 2009 where he spends his free time writing about Israel and politics with articles featured in Newsweek, Times of Israel and The Forward.
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