The Carmel Market in Tel Aviv is a place that comes alive early in the morning. While the rest of the neighborhood is waking up, the market is a tumult of preparation. Fruits, vegetables, olives, fish, breads, cheeses, eggs, candies, clothes, household goods, appliances, electronics rendered into orderly display among a variety of accented Hebrew, Arabic and Russian that represents one of the miraculous realities of contemporary Israel. At the end of the market, a city parking lot and collection of buses gear themselves up for the day's work as well, opposite the road from Dolphinarium beach, site of one of the worst terrorist attacks a bit more than nine years ago.
Today the beach was alive with runners and bikers and walkers and those on any number of morning workouts and like Prospect Park in Brooklyn, representative of the variety of ages that take the maintenance of their heart and the rest of their bodies with enough seriousness to get up and out early enough to start their day right. It's a conversational bunch. Lots of folks run in pairs, bike in pairs, workout on the machines in pairs--yet another example, if you will of the strengthened social fabric of an intimate society.
An example of a tear in the fabric of this intimate society is that ferkakte conversion bill making its way through the Knesset this week, a bill that will delegitimize non-orthodox Jews in Israel a whole new ways. This bill is a red herring for deeper divisions in the society and is not really what it says it's about. Similar to certain revolting expressions of extreme political elements in the United States that we are seeing directed at President Obama, the conversion bill in Israel is actually a political bomb meant to assert the power and hegemony of the religiously extreme orthodox elements of Israeli life. The bill is about who gets to determine the future direction of the nation into the next generation--quite similar to the Tea Party movement "taking back" the country.
Nonsense. This bill is about a broad assertion of power and in this case, it's a rebellion of the Haredi parties against an already agreed up on system of conversion which--surprise, surprise--had declared that they could not or would not be the sole arbiters of *who is a Jew*. This is well-worn path in Israeli life--whenever there are serious and substantive movements toward a peace agreement, another element of society throws the Jewish identity bomb into the middle of a crowded negotiation table, creating a painful and ultimately unresolvable distraction from the bigger issue at hand--peace and security for everyone who lives here. THAT'S what this is about.
Besides running through the market and along the beach today, I circumnavigated along Balfour Street and Ahad Ha'am, ending there at Cafe Ginsburg for a cup of coffee post-run. Lord Balfour, the First Earl of Balfour, was responsible for the eponymous declaration calling for the establishment of a Jewish homeland in British Mandate Palestine in 1917.
Ahad Ha'am--Asher Ginsburg (hence the name of the cafe). Ahad Ha'am was one of Zionism's early internal critics--about both the early Zionist's treatment of the indigenous Arab population as well as the pitfalls of Jewish self-rule, foreseeing the challenges that in many ways we now face. Unlike Herzl, who was focused on the creation of the political state and had very little use for the Hebrew language, Ahad Ha'am was deeply concerned with the literary Jewish character of the future state and felt deeply that it must emanate its own uniquely new Jewish sensibility, built on the past but very much a center for the Diaspora, creating a modern Hebrew language, art and literary expression that could and would ultimately strengthen those living outside the Land of Israel.
Fuss, noisiness and panic. None of which were evident on the faces of the Israelis getting the market ready this morning or those minding their bodies in order to stay in good health for the internal and external struggles of their lives in the country that lie ahead. Oh, how I yearn to see the Prime Minister throw the Haredi parties out of his government once and for all, disallowing their disproportionate control over the singular interpretations of Torah and Judaism that they represent; to enter into a coalition of those willing to give free and open voice to the many-faceted expression of Jewishness and Israeli-ness that is the miracle of contemporary Israel; and get on with the business of letting people live lives as "a free people in our land."