Purim in Jaljulya di Leora Eren Frucht
Jaljulya resident walks by the latest site of a "price tag" attack.
The graffiti reads "Every Arab is a criminal." Photo by Leora Eren Frucht
I love Purim. For the most part.
I love the burst of creativity, so Israeli in spirit, that produces a parade of insanely original costumes to make your jaw drop.
I love the surreal side of it, like when I’m standing in line in an electronics store waiting for the burly salesman with the deep voice to explain to the guy in front of me about some gadget, which he is doing earnestly while clad in a leopard-skin dress and blond wig.
The thrill of children ripples through the air like static electricity, as they live out some fantasy – superhero, devil, princess or rock star – and anticipate gorging on obscene amounts of candy. I even love the cross-dressing.
But then there is a darker side of the holiday, one that I feel palpably this year.
Some say Purim is the quintessential Jewish festival: You know – they tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat. If only it stopped there. But the Scroll of Esther goes on to tell us that after we rebuffed their attempt to kill us and threw a big feast, we went on to kill 75,000 of them, including women and children – them being Amalek, our archenemy.
The many interpretations, justifications and fancy philosophical footwork invested over the centuries to make this sound okay have never made me feel any better about it.
It’s genocide. And genocide always begins with crude generalizations about a whole people, with demonizing them, which is why even seemingly “small” acts of racism disturb me deeply.
This year that point was brought home to me poignantly on a schizophrenic Friday when I spent the morning at my daughter’s school buoyed by the joy of costume-clad children, and the afternoon in a place where there was no mirth – just hurt and rage.
For while Jews were celebrating the merry month of Adar, Arabs in the central Israeli town of Jaljulya awoke one day last week to find they had been the latest victims of a so-called “price-tag attack.” The phrase “Every Arab is a criminal” had been spray-painted in thick black Hebrew letters on a 10-meter stretch of wall outside the just-completed home of two Jaljulya families. Nineteen cars had been vandalized, all four tires in each punctured, with acid used to further deface the vehicles and, in some cases, to scrawl additional messages, in Hebrew, like “God is the King.”
This quiet, cramped, nondescript Israeli Arab town of 9,000 residents, almost all of them Muslim, is situated in the heart of the country, sandwiched between Kfar Sava and various other Jewish cities, kibbutzim and settlements. It’s a place where Jews from neighboring communities come for the best hummus or the cheapest garages for their cars.
I probably would never have gone there myself if my Reform community in Modi’in, YOZMA, had not twinned with Jaljulya – some 25 kilometers away – for a program called “Neighbors.” The program ended over a year ago, but we have continued to meet the families from Jaljulya, who have since become our friends.
One of the reasons we in Modi’in and they in Jaljulya embarked on this venture in the first place was the sense that “the other” was becoming, at best, a stranger, and, at worst, an object of fear and loathing. We were determined to show ourselves, and especially our children, that it didn’t have to be that way.
And so when I heard about the ugly attack on the property of residents of Jaljulya I headed over there on Friday to join a solidarity procession through town to condemn the acts. As we passed the disfigured wall, the owner of the house, Ihab Tatar, asked repeatedly: “Why us? What did we do to warrant this?” A 43-year-old carpenter and father of four, Tatar had just finished building the home and surrounding wall, with his own hands, a month ago. “That’s the welcome we were given,” he said wryly.
His 13-year-old son sidled up to him. “He follows me everywhere. He doesn’t want to be alone since the incident,” explains Tatar, who lives in one part of the house, while his brother and family live in another part. Four of their cars were vandalized. “We’re all scared for our children. This time it’s the house and cars. Next time what?”
Over in the Jaljulya council, a small delegation of well-wishers, Jews and Arabs, expressed their sorrow and outrage. Faik Odeh, the newly elected council head, said he was heartened by the presence of so many of his Jewish neighbors, a father and son from Matan, others who had come from Tzur Yigal, Rehovot, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and kibbutzim from near and far.
But Odeh added that he was hurt and disappointed that he had not heard a single condemnation or apology from any representative of the prime minister, the interior minister (responsible for towns and councils) or the public security minister, who oversees the police. “Their silence is disturbing,” said Odeh, who is closely associated with the Labor Party and narrowly defeated the incumbent Islamic Movement council head in the last election in October.
One participant at the meeting said this was not about Jews versus Arabs, but really about forces of light versus forces of darkness.
That rings so much truer to me than does the Scroll of Esther division of forces – our people versus theirs, who must be wiped out to the very last baby.
I too believe that there is a struggle between those who bring light – individuals who belong to many different religions and nationalities – and those who bring darkness, who also have no monopoly in any one ethnic group.
This Purim my heart feels heavy because the perpetrators of an act meant to dehumanize “the other ” – the latest in a long string of such acts – belong to my people. And so, while the day began, as it should, with the light and laughter of giddy children, it ended with me standing in a long shadow cast by the forces of darkness.
Leora Eren Frucht is an editor at Haaretz.com.