Diana Bletter
Peripheral vision on a beach village in northern Israel

From Anti-Semitism in the Hamptons to the Western Galilee

It’s hard not to compare shopping for Rosh Hashanah in the Hamptons with shopping where I do, in “Souq Faisal HaGadol,” in the village of Mazra, the Western Galilee.

You’d think the pre-rush Rosh Hashanah shopping squeeze would not be on full-force a little after seven in the morning, a good five days before the holiday even begins. But the parking lot at Faisal’s, as people here call the supermarket, was already over-packed, and I had to squeeze my moped in between the parking barricades and the eucalyptus tree that stands at the entrance.

When I used to live in the Hamptons, specifically Westhampton Beach, (known as the most Jewish of the Hamptons), in the early 2000’s, I’d push my cart down the quiet aisles of the local supermarket before Rosh Hashana in search of something — anything — to remind me of the holiday, and I would stand in front of the few items on the four or five shelves marked KOSHER, staring at a jar of gefilte fish that looked like it contained prehistoric life forms floating in cloudy formaldehyde.

A few years ago in Westhampton Beach, there was a mega-controversy over putting eruv markers on the utility poles around the Hampton Synagogue which erupted in 2008 and finally ended in 2016, when the markers were permitted to be hung. During the legal battle, Father Joe Mirro, the priest of Immaculate Conception Church which serves Westhampton Beach and the surrounding community, included a letter to his parishioners, entitled “A Marginal Jew,” in the church newsletter. First, Father Mirro reminded his churchgoers that Jesus’s parents, Mary and Joseph, “were good Jews,” and that Jesus himself was a Jew. He then shared that he has heard “anti-Semitic remarks” about the Jewish community that he found to be “quite disturbing.”

“Some remarks have been so extreme,” Father Mirro wrote, “the only people I’ve heard them from before were Nazis.”

This is the Hamptons, mind you, where people were spouting Nazi-like remarks. A New York church. Not even an extremist mosque.

I was thinking of this as I shopped at Faisal’s, playing bumper carts, maneuvering my way down the aisles, saying hello to neighbors from my village, Shavei Zion, across the road, listening to people wish one another a happy new year. I watched as people loaded up their shopping carts not only with traditional foods like pomegranates and honey, but enough stuff to convince me that Rosh Hashana lasted for 40 days and 40 nights.Everyone griped about how crowded the store was but I did not mind and here’s why. It is a luxury for me to live in a place where my family and I are not the only Jews around. Westhampton in the summer is one thing, but oh baby, it’s a long and cold and lonely winter. Starting in early December, my kids were often tongue-tied, having to respond to someone else asking them, “What do you want Santa to put under your Christmas tree?”

So I don’t take living among so many Jews for granted. I also don’t take it for granted that I’m living in the Western Galilee, where there is a fascinating mix of cultures: Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Druze. I particularly like the story of how Faisal Aslan used to sell watermelons from a cart on the side of the road, and now his store employs hundreds of people and serves thousands of shoppers.I am not blind to all of the conflicts and contradictions in this country. I know I am crazy naive for moving here but I remain idealistic, optimistic, hopeful. And home. Shopping in the store full of noise and chaos and commotion before Rosh Hashana does not seem like a lot. But in a way, it seems like everything.

About the Author
Diana Bletter is the author of numerous books, including the National Jewish Book Award Nominee of The Invisible Thread: A Portrait of Jewish American Women, A Remarkable Kindness (HarperCollins) and The Loving Yourself Book for Women. She is the First Place Winner of Moment Magazine's Short Fiction Contest in 2019. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, Tablet, The North American Review, The Forward, Jerusalem Post, Israel21C, and many other publications. She lives with her husband and family in the Western Galilee, where she is a member of the hevra kadisha, the village's burial society as well as Dove of Peace, a group of Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Druze women.
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