Shul hopping, Kibbutzim, Bedouins; Different ways of life in Israel

Simchat Torah could be my favorite holiday of the year. Arriving on the heels of the Jewish New Year and Yom Kippur, Jewish people all around the world finish reading the Torah and start again from the beginning. A new friend Aliya and I stayed over at a family’s house who lives just outside of Jerusalem in order to go to a renewal synagogue called Nava Tehila. I would say that the family’s brand of religion was unconventional. It was more spiritual than strictly observant, adherent to Jewish law but more liberal in lifestyle. The son and I quickly connected over music, but we couldn’t jam for long because they observe the rule that prohibits work- and thus music on the holiday. The mother and I had very interesting conversations about religion, philosophy and politics. I asked her why she does not write or play music on shabbat and she suggested a spiritual explanation. Creativity, she explained, is a one way exchange between G-d and man. For six days out of the week, G-d imbues within us inspiration. It seems to come out of nowhere. However, on the seventh day, we give to G-d through prayer and meditation. 

Throughout the weekend, we went to three different synagogues each with a different flavour. One synagogue was held in a school gym with lots of chanting and dancing mostly of young folk. The other was a carlebach synagogue where we carried the torahs in the streets and danced joyously. That morning we went to Nava Tehilah. Over 95% of the people at the synagogue were dancing and fully involved- a level of participation I have never before seen. Its difficult to explain the spiritual energy that electrified the air as concentric rings of people spun and swirled around the instruments and torahs in the middle. Voices chanted, sweat pooled but we; young, old, Ashkenazi, Mizrahi and Sephardic danced on. The joy of worshipping together was undeniable.

Last week, we went to a kibbutz in the Negev Desert. A kibbutz is a socialist commune- essentially a closed neighborhood- where members live, eat together in a dining hall, and work in what they want to pursue. All of the money they earn goes to the Kibbutz Collective- whether you are a scientist who manages their high tec algae operation or the date picker, you receive according to your needs not the amount you make. All in all it was a fascinating experience to understand why socialism continues to work. The answer is that it is goal oriented community who is capitalistic on the outside and socialist on the inside, made of people who elected to take part in this lifestyle. 

When you drive out of Jerusalem into Area C of the disputed territories, little collections of shacks dot the arid hills on the side of the highway. These are bedouin villages. Bedouins are Arabs who were nomadic up until 60 years ago when they settled in semi permanent shacks. We visited one of these villages and talked to a journalist and a smokey man who was the village leader. 

The bedouin village is below a settlement up on the hill. At one point both were considered illegal constructions until the settlement was granted legality. Although the Bedouin village was not a permitted construction, it also was not a permanent construction and thus it’s legality was hard to define in court so it was left alone. 10 years ago, an NGO built the first permanent structure, a school, which thus made the village illegal. The settlement then petitioned the government to remove the bedouin village given its status as an illegal construction, eyesore, and impedance to settlement expansion. The Israeli government proposed eminent domain with little just compensation to be able to purchase a legal home (worth much more than their current shanty.) The smokey village leader told us: we were masons, laborers, and the roofers who built the settlement. Even though we predate them on this land, our existence is at stake. 

Complicating the matter, the bedouins are a stateless people. They are not Israeli citizens and they are not citizens of the Palestinian Authority. They will fly the Palestinian flag when the Palestinian Authority helps them, and will lower the flag when the Israeli government comes to help them. The teachers in the school are paid by the Palestinian Authority and the lawyers fighting the court battle to help the Bedouins are Israeli. 

Some Israelis may say that the Bedouins have it better; that no government at all is better than a government that can’t work for peace- or at all (By the way the Israelis won’t have a government until after the third elections anyways.) For others, when capitalist Israel didn’t work, they created their own semi autonomous government within Israel with Kibbutzim. And the Bedouins…well, they’d rather stay Bedouin; out of this statehood and citizenship madness.

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