Friday, September 24, 2004

More on being a secular Jew
(This post may be a bit shocking for traditional and religious Jews, who may have certain pre-conceptions about life in Israel. Be warned)
A reader suggested it must be difficult to be a secular Jew in Israel. On the contrary, Israel is an excellent place to be secular. First of all, the majority of Jewish Israelis are either secular or traditional.

The modern State of Israel was created by secular socialists, breaking out of the confines of Eastern European yeshivas. As a result, until fairly recently, the academic, financial, cultural, and political elites were mainly secular. This is changing, but even though the ultra-Secular tend to feel threatened by religious politicians attempting to infringe on their freedoms, it isn’t really happening (this is a bit complex – more about it another time, maybe).

Jews who came here from Arab and Muslim countries, by the way, make up about half of Israelis. They apparently lived a far less confining and restrictive style of Jewish life in their countries of origin than did the Jews in Eastern Europe, therefore when they came to Israel, many, if not most, became secular but remained traditional.

Secondly, in Israel the likelihood of your kids marrying non-Jewish people, if this holds any importance for you, is relatively low, even if you make no attempt to live any sort of ‘Jewish’ life.

Third, and best of all, if you are seriously secular, you get to make the most of both worlds on Yom Kippur.

Imagine, if you will, the busiest, noisiest, most congested street you know; always jammed with cars, buses, trucks whizzing past, horns peeping, hundreds of people filling the sidewalks, rushing this way and that.

And now try to mentally visualize that same street, completely empty, eerily silent. No vehicles moving on it, not even one, sidewalks empty of passersby, besides maybe the occasional family, walking slowly and reverently towards their synagogue.

And then you hear it, a low clicking, whirling sound. Soon there is a sight to go with the sound, a solitary guy on a bike, riding boldly, right in the middle of the wrong side of the road. He’s soon followed by a group of kids in their early teens, about six of them, racing their bikes, shouting out to each other. Next to go passed - a couple on roller blades, holding hands; and then more bikers, mainly children of various ages, many in packs, but quite a few serious adult bikers too, with all the fancy gear.

This is Tel Aviv on Yom Kippur, the best place to be in the world if you are a secular kid and you possess a bicycle. There is nowhere you can’t go, complete and utter freedom, unheard of, unthinkable. The next day the gangs of kids tell stories of how they reached as far as Herzliya and Rishpon in the north. An all time favorite is the Ayalon Freeway, which cuts through the east of Tel Aviv all along. For secular Tel Aviv kids, used to the restrictions of living in the middle of a busy city with all its dangers, Yom Kippur is a day of breaking free, a day of personal independence.

Last time I rode a bike in Tel Aviv on Yom Kippur was two or three years ago, and I think I was fasting (poor R.T., I more or less destroyed his bike on that occasion, but that’s another story). I’m going to try for both this year as well. Maybe I’ll drink water. Yediot Aharonot reported yesterday that 22.5% of the customers of one movie rental chain fast and watch movies. I wonder how many fast and ride their bikes!

So this morning was bike maintenance time. I’ve ridden with the girls a few times recently, so their bikes were fine, only needed a bit of air, and I fitted them with the lights I had bought, ready for the ritual Kol Nidrei night ride. Mine had another flat, on the other hand, so now we’re a bit low on spare inner tubes should we have any calamities (Erev Yom Kippur is not a good time to go anywhere near any bike shops - too packed).

Both girls have big plans and were on the phone all morning. I think Youngest is being a bit over-ambitious, her bike isn’t marvelous and she isn’t very strong, but now that I have my own bike, I’ll have no problem to come and save her, wherever she may find herself.


So there we are. Yesterday I was proud to receive my first sample of hate mail, from someone who completely misunderstood an old post of mine so much so that he actually understood it to mean the exact opposite (he obviously didn’t read it very carefully). The e-mail itself was very silly. Besides one unpleasant expression which was repeated throughout (the ‘f’ word and the ‘sh’ word) to describe me, I am apparently in possession of a ‘little graphomaniac blabber's mind’. I quite liked that. Maybe I’ll make it my blog description.

I’ve deleted the old post. It wasn’t that important. And although you had to be pretty dense to be offended by the particular detail that made my hate-filled correspondent froth at the mouth, I really don't want to upset anyone like that. It’s so sad that people are reduced to such language and such behavior. If he had written a polite e-mail saying that he was offended by it, I would have apologized and deleted it, so why the violence?

Update: Good description of Yom Kippur by Shai.