Featured Post

Not so blue and white: Pondering Jerusalem Day

Finding that the festivities bring out cynicism, exasperation and, oh yes, also delight and pride. And then more cynicism

Despite the fact that I wear a knitted circle on the top of my head, for years Jerusalem day elicited feelings of distaste and aversion in me. But given an unexpected two-hour break from classes last year, I decided to take advantage of my college’s great location on HaNevi’im Street, set aside my cynicism and snobbery, and join the by-now famous “flag parade.” Just be like everyone else.

I found myself walking alongside an enthusiastic 14-year-old boy from Givat Shmuel, thrilled about being in Jerusalem with his Bnei Akiva youth group. “We’re the troop that boosts morale most in Bnei Akiva. Without us it won’t be cheerful here.” Wow, this is one strange boy, I thought. I moved away and joined the parade at the King David Hotel. Ahead of me were dozens of boys and girls of various ages, all of them dressed in blue and white. The flag of Israel (made in China, of course) was everywhere, hundreds of them, it seemed.

Following the crowd, I ended up, tired and thirsty, together with a mass of people with huge sweat rings, near the “spiritual discotheque” of the Jewish people, our Western Wall. Unfortunately, the people in charge of the Western Wall and their attitude towards women remind me every time that there’s nothing Western about the Western Wall. Within minutes, I was swept into a hora type circle, surrounded by the most homogeneous crowd I had ever seen in my life. Everyone was dancing and singing and of course waving an Israeli flag (made in China, of course). Within seconds, old feelings of cynicism and contempt swept over me. Like placing an order in a restaurant “May I please have cynicism and disrespect, and I’d appreciate it if you could add some arrogance on the side.” Unpleasant feelings, but very real.

I am dancing in a circle, holding the hand of an enthusiastic teenager who looks like he’s just been notified that he won a million dollars, or maybe a fancy set of “Likutei Moharan.” My feet are dancing but I am wondering if anyone in this impressive Religious Zionist crowd understands that we are in the age of post-nationalism. Why do they insist on going out onto the streets of the city in a festival of nationalist, tribal exhibitionism? What has happened to our youth movements? This is the Bnei Akiva I grew up in?!

And then I was annoyed by the linking of Hassidic music to a national holiday. I found it contrived and unnatural. What does the music of the Diaspora (music which I personally love) have to do with a national Israeli celebration? What’s with all the large knitted skullcaps and side locks? When did this trend start and why? This does not look like my community, or maybe I do not look like my community and my knitted circle really is too small?

And the girls? The girls here look like they decided together to go to the same store, buy the same shirt, the same jeans skirt and put the same pair of pants under the jeans skirt. My fashion report from the Western Wall in Jerusalem Day: A long-sleeved white T-shirt (covering the entire arm, of course), a short-sleeved white shirt on top of the long-sleeved shirt, a floor-length jeans skirt that looks wide enough to be used as my blanket. And of course, under the jeans skirt is the classic pair of pants, in case the skirt billows up, Marilyn Monroe style, during the dancing.

All this leaves me wishing that the Religious Zionist public, of which I am maybe a part and maybe not a part, would grow up and get real. Enough with the excessive nationalism and outdated world-views. You are out of sync with the modern world, I think.

And stop kissing that wall so much. It’s just a wall. There is no sacred object and no sacred ground. Do I need to remind you that the only thing that is truly sacred is life? Sometimes I think that everything is the same, our hero separated the water into two and their hero walked on the water. We kiss vertical cement, they kiss horizontal cement. And everyone is so confident in their way, their righteousness, their faith. And it’s so damn clear to each that they own the truth and that the other is wrong and probably crazy.

Unfortunately the Via Dolorosa I have experienced to rejoice with Jerusalem day is shared by few nowadays. The Religious Zionist public members go out in their multitudes and celebrate in the city’s streets, but who joins them? Where is the secular public? Where is the Haredi community? Why don’t they dance?

Former Speaker of the Knesset Reuven Rivlin wrote in one of his columns that “Jerusalem Day is not a festival only for religious people and it shouldn’t be. It is not a festival only of the right-wing and it shouldn’t be one. Any attempt to appropriate Jerusalem Day to a certain public or political agenda does a disservice to Jerusalem and moves her further away from the center of our Jewish identity,” He is right, but why does he care, as I do when I am here, about those who are not here? Why, when I am dancing and singing, am I bothered about those who do not dance and sing? Anyone who’s here is OK. Everyone is invited, this is not a private party.

Enough with all this seriousness, I am so serious, loosen up buddy, loosen up. I try to zoom out, drop some of the cynicism, and see this group as if I were a Japanese tourist with a camera.

And what I see is unbelievable!

How wonderful, what joy, how simple. Everything here, from start to finish, is sweet and simple. The clothing is simple, the parade is simple. Everybody is smiling, dancing proudly altogether. They have come from all over the country to dance, sing, enjoy, and be proud. There is nothing false in their enthusiasm. Almost no fake smiles. No real-time uploads to Facebook. No camera shots followed by, “how do I look?.” I have never been approached by so many people personally asking me to dance. (So what if each and every one of them was a guy?) They love the country, they are singing about the country, boys and girls, chaste and sweet. And nice, so nice. Old school, simple and good. What a wonderful community (to which I belong and don’t belong), so honest and united, full of modesty and caring.

It’s fun here and fun to celebrate, to be proud and to have feelings of belonging and connecting. I am beginning to feel sorry that I didn’t come last year. I recall the verse from Zachariah: “There shall yet old men and old women sit in the broad places of Jerusalem, every man with his staff in his hand for very age. And the broad places of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in the broad places thereof.”

”Next year in Jerusalem!”

Or maybe in New York. Depends on the dollar rate.

Happy Jerusalem Day

About the Author
Yehuda Lapian was born in New York and raised in Jerusalem in a National Religious home by parents committed to open-minded inquiry; He is a graduate of the Ma'ale Gilboa Yeshiva, which combines Torah study with full army service; He served in the IDF tank corps and then in the Education Corps; He is currently in his second year as an honors student in political science and communications at Hadassah College and is working as a Knesset intern with the Yesh Atid party