Three Weddings, No
Funeral, But Very Quiet in Yafo

By

Leonard Zwelling

         We are coming to the end of our journey in Israel. The tour
of the West Bank, the Golan, Judea and Samaria is behind us as is the
conference in Tel Aviv. Endless quantities of hummus have been consumed. When
you eat an Israeli “light” meal, the dishes upon dishes of salads of beets,
pickles, slaw and onions cover the table even before what you ordered arrives.
I am astonished that the tabletops are not larger in this country.

         The wine industry is growing and clearly progressing from
the days of the Kosher wine for Passover we were all forced to drink as a
putatively viable alternative to Manischewitz. 
We tasted some mighty good ones this trip, although our Israeli hosts
last week for dinner brought wine and it was from France. Still a lot better
than most Israeli wines. Beer on the other hand is still fairly weak here. Most
have no body and no unique flavor. It may well be that while the water
architects have solved the agricultural problems with water, the water with
which they make their beer is still not up to Belgian standards.

         The food by contrast is amazing and varied. You want it, you
can get it in Tel Aviv. This is a very cosmopolitan place, economically
growing, physically expanding and almost immune to the chaos transpiring in
close proximity, but in other parts of the country.

         Yafo, the ancient port city south of modern Tel Aviv is
largely a tourist attraction now having been overrun by every conceivable
invading force over the millennia from Ottomans to Mamaluks, the Crusaders to
the British. It is now mostly a collection of shops and restaurants. With our
time limited now, but still a day away from 15 hours in the Friendly Skies,
we set out to explore the bustle of Yafo. Unfortunately, it too fell victim to
the latest troubles in Israel.

         Many of the shops were closed and have been for a few days
as was reported to us. As many of the residents are Muslim, many tourists have
stayed away in fear of rock throwing. Our cab driver tells us it is usually
crowded on a Friday (Muslim Sabbath), but there were very few people
frequenting the small stores that line the narrow alleys and streets of the
port. Tables were an easy acquisition at any of the restaurants around the old
harbor.

         Then we came upon a crowd surrounding a small gallery
clapping to the cadence of a small band of three. The music was distinctly
klezmer making us wonder had we happened on a Jewish wedding? We had. In fact
we stumbled into three. Chupas were up, crowds were singing and dancing and
food and wine flowed. It was a beautiful mid Fall day and a tradition of Jewish
weddings in the old city was not stemmed by the latest violence. It’s the take
home metaphor of our trip.

         More than anything, we know that the distance between Arab
and Jew on the macro level has never been greater, even though many Jews and
Muslims are good friends. In 1998 and 1999 we soared across check points which
were blockades in name only. Israeli and Palestinian soldiers co-manned the
checkpoints while sharing cigarettes. Today, in the same places, 9 meter high
cement walls have supplanted open borders. The soldiers share nothing save
contempt and the people, willing though some may be to make peace, are miles
away from any meaningful co-existence in one state or two. Israel, more than
ever, is an armed camp. Admittedly, an apparently indifferent one in most of
Tel Aviv, but whether on the kibbutzim where it is still a rural existence or
in the go-go corridors of technical innovation between Haifa and Tel Aviv,
there is still an unspoken anxiety. What’s next?

         Clearly there are still weddings. Life goes on. So does
business and traffic. But for people who live here, whether in the 78% of
Israel that was cut from the original British Mandate of Palestine in 1948 or for
those in the 22% captured in 1967, most of which has not been legally annexed,
or even for those in the parts of Israel that are none of these, in the Golan
in the former French areas of Syria captured in 1967, this is not a calm
country. But after the year we have already had in the States, with school
shootings and the whole question of race clearly unsettled for the nation, are
we in a position to point fingers? No, we aren’t.

         What I learned yet again on this trip is that we Americans
have about as much right to tell the Israelis how to handle their challenges as
they have telling us how to handle our own. We are two democracies, but unlike
the UK and the US, Israel and the US are not separated by a common language.
This is a very different world than the one in the States. I burrowed down
another few inches this time. It may take another 4 visits to make any
additional progress. This country of my people is a puzzle, for me and for the
people who live here. Shalom!

Leonard Zwelling