Zack Rothbart

The Last Friday of Ramadan

Ramadan prayers on the Temple Mount, 1996 (Photo: Gideon Markowicz). The Israel Press and Photo Agency (I.P.P.A.) / Dan Hadani Collection, National Library of Israel / CC BY 4.0.
Ramadan prayers on the Temple Mount, 1996 (Photo: Gideon Markowicz). The Israel Press and Photo Agency (I.P.P.A.) / Dan Hadani Collection, National Library of Israel / CC BY 4.0

“Friday” and “Ramadan” have become an ominous pair of words associated with high tensions, vitriolic rhetoric, and heightened states of alert. The last Friday in Ramadan has become a sort of somber denouement, the “pinnacle” of a period of intensified anxiety for Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians.

This past Friday, the last one for Ramadan 2023, was no different. In fact, it may have been the most tense in recent years. Coinciding with Iran’s “Jerusalem Day” and on the heels of increased terrorism, an onslaught of cyberattacks, as well as rocket fire from Gaza and Lebanon, Iron Dome batteries were spread across Israel’s North and commando units were called in to keep the peace, including in Jerusalem – the pilgrimage destination of hundreds of thousands of Muslims each Friday in Ramadan, including this one.

Walking to synagogue on Friday morning not far from the Old City, I saw a religious Muslim woman taking her driving test as the tester, a religious Jewish man, sat in the passenger’s seat. I wondered about the interpersonal, intercultural, interreligious dynamics there, marveling a bit at the thought that I’d never pondered this niche yet common everyday interaction before, nor how similar dynamics in one form or another take place not only on the last Friday of Ramadan, but on pretty much every other day of Ramadan, every Friday, every day of the year for that matter.

Later the same day, following a particularly traumatic playground incident, I took my preschooler for urgent medical care. She was seen by two doctors, one nurse and an x-ray technician. All of them Arab. All of them friendly, professional, sympathetic. Why wouldn’t they be?

As we waited for the doctor to call us in, we chatted with an Arab mother and her congested baby son.

Around the same time a few kilometers away, some arrests were made as Hamas flags were waved proudly. Thanks to Israeli security services, planned attacks were foiled around the very same time, as well. Some of them made it into the news, while others almost certainly did not and probably never will. Hundreds of thousands of Muslims had converged on the Temple Mount to pray and they did so almost – statistically speaking – without incident. Undoubtedly many of them – perhaps most – do not want the State of Israel to exist, resenting any form Jewish sovereignty between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. 

It’s an inconvenient truth for many on all sides of the political and religio-nationalistic spectrum, yet at the end of the day, despite how we might feel and even perhaps because of it, the vast majority of Arabs are not actively trying to harm Jews and the vast majority of Jews are not trying to harm Arabs.

It’s less interesting to television cameras, politicians and pundits, yet when it comes down to it, the truth is that we’re generally all just trying to pass our drivers’ tests and tend to our kids’ boo-boos — even on the last Friday in Ramadan.

About the Author
Zack Rothbart is a Jerusalem-based writer and publicist. He is currently Senior Strategist at Concrete Media, and previously served as the National Library of Israel's international spokesman. Zack tries to learn something from everyone, and lives with his endearing and thought-provoking family, for which he is grateful. Feel free to email him via the "Contact Me" link above.
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