Zelda Harris
Five on the 100 aliyah from UK list!

To fast or not to fast and why?

Its not easy to fast for 50 hours.On Yom Kippur we fast for 25 and we are usually in an air conditioned home or shul at least a peaceful environment. Even sitting in Hayarkon Park, the whirring of the bikes is kind of soothing. It’s a special day recognised by almost all the Jewish inhabitants of Israel one way or another.

Fasting in a flimsy tent on the pavement opposite the gracious residence of our Prime Minister is another scene, entirely.

The members of Women Wage Peace, whose movement came into being soon after the TSUK EITAN war in Gaza in the summer of 2014, started a 50 day symbolic fast and vigil last Wednesday July 8th, the anniversary of that campaign from which we are still licking our wounds.

Many intend to fast for 25 or 50 hours and hold a vigil for 50 days — the fifty day war!

They are demanding a “return to the negotiating table” to work towards a diplomatic accord between us and our neighbours.

I spent the first day with them and again on Tuesday I was present all day. Due to my senior years, they forbade me to fast.They surely do not want to have to deal with dehydration of old ladies. It’s enough to keep an eye on the group of those who fast each day, who come from all walks of life representing all ethnic groups and arrive from the length and breadth of Israel.

The atmosphere is far from condusive for a peaceful abstension from food, but it’s buzzing, stimulating and very satisfying. Cars go by, hooting appraisal or sticking up a finger, the fumes penetrate the primitive succah, which is to be our home for another few weeks.

I got to my destination via taxi to Arlozorov and then bus to the Holy City and then another taxi. The first taxi driver wearing a kipa looked at my tee shirt cheekily and said “White suits you” and then “what is written on the shirt, whom do you represent?”

I told him proudly, and his retort: “We don”t need peace we will never have it.”

Quietly I said, “Are you happy to go on fighting wars to no avail”? His response was: “Why not? Bibi makes the right decisions, what’s an army for? No one likes us, the Arabs want to destroy us and the world does not care.”

I think for a minute and then, “Don’t you agree that we are players on a world stage, that we are an integral part of what happens in the free world and therefore have a role in this region?”

Treading carefully, I thought. “No  we don’t need anyone including the USA.”

I must have let out  a sigh of relief when arrived at the bus stop for Jerusalem and I fortunately did not have to open my purse to pay him, as I had hired him via Gett Taxi! I could not say “thank you”.

The bus filled up to capacity and we took off. The driver was courteous to all and his Eric Clapton CD enhanced my journey. I had taken the front seat (reserved for elderly and infirm) and so studied  the objects he had hung around the windscreen, touristic and religious momentos, and flags of all nations. I then I raised my eyes to a big green emblem of the Golani brigade.”Golani Sheli”. I thought of what the taxi driver had said, the memorial for our soldiers a few days previously, and my heart felt like a dead weight, how naive I am. We thrive on the military ethos, believe that we are unbeatable and all my arguments cut no ice, even though I came here in the first year of the state and have devoted all my life to the betterment of our society.

The second taxi that I enter as I step into the Jerusalem sunlight also picks up a young woman who wants to stop off at the Knesset. We start a conversation he wants to know why I am going to Bibi’s house. The young woman smiles and I ask her why she is going to the Knesset. “I am an aide to Emanuel Trachtenberg,” she says. I acknowledge that I know him and am a member if his party and together, we talk about why I am going to join the women at the vigil.

She leaves us at the entrance to the Knesset and the taxi driver rather like the first one, starts to tell me that I and those I am joining, are wasting their time. He is a Jerusalemite who grew up with Arabs and read the Koran, so his argument is more reasoned, but also making me feel unsure of myself.

I like him though and pay him. He gives me his card and I see his name is Shimon.

I sit at the table in the tent and talk to the passers-by, selling them tee shirts and badges and signing many up as future members. I meet a dashing man who tells me he is from Cairo and invites me to visit. Another lady is from Dubai. They all think what we are doing is great. Then along come two friends, one Norwegian and one Scottish, members of an International Christian organisation, who have spent a while here studying the life of Christians in our region. Further inside the tent, a lady plays a guitar and some people hum along. One distinguished looking woman turns out to be an esteemed Professor of History and Judaism and once in conversation with her, a plethora of fascinating subjects are addressed and we listen, like students at her feet.

Then the action starts. TV crews arrive. MK”s pop by, interviews and photo ops and more.There is perpetual motion while several people continue quietly with the symbolic fast without a grumble

It is as if we are holding open house and our very presence there elicits a reaction which is enlightening.

People want to engage……

If we are there for nothing less, its worth it.

PS. I went for a break at one point and when I returned the women said “Oh someone drove by asking for you; he said his name was Shimon!”

About the Author
Zelda Harris first came to Israel 1949, aged 18. After living through the hardships of the nascent state, she returned to England in 1966. She was a founding member of the Women's Campaign for Soviet Jewry. In 1978, she returned with her family to Israel and has been active in various spheres of Israeli Society since. Together with the late Chaim Herzog, she founded CCC for Electoral Reform, was the Director of BIPAC in Israel, and a co-founder of Metuna, the Organisation for Road Safety, which received the Speaker of Knesset Quality of Life Award for saving lives on the roads and prevention of serious injury. She is now a peace activist, blogger for Times of Israel and is writing her life story.
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