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Davka!
by Judy Lash Balint
June 10, 2001

Ever see a 10 year old with kippa and tzitzit (ritual fringes) dancing an Irish jig? If you had been in the courtyard of the Jerusalem Theater tonight, you would have witnessed that sight.

The scene took place at one of the free concerts that make up part of the annual five week Israel Festival here. A six piece Israeli band dedicated to Irish music regaled hundreds of Jerusalemites who showed up to enjoy an evening of free outdoor entertainment.

Featuring some of the world’s best artists, like conductor Daniel Barenboim; diva Dame Kiri Te Kanawa and jazz great, Max Roach, the festival has provided Israelis with the opportunity to demonstrate our resolve not to succumb to the efforts of Arab terrorists to close down the country out of fear.

Before tonight’s concert, the plaza of the theater was turned over to children’s entertainers. Magicians, fire-throwers, balloon artists and musicians all took up positions in separate corners of the spacious area. Kids wandered around munching on cotton candy and popcorn, while their parents enjoyed a beer or cappuccino purchased from stands on the periphery.

A dozen disabled kids and their counselors (all religious teens) took their places in the front row for the concert. Every seat in the place was filled before the bagpipes, accordion and drums started up.

A similar scene took place last Thursday night at another Festival event entitled: “Love is in the Air.” The venue for this spectacle was the ancient Solomon’s Pools amphitheater, just below the walls of the Old City and the Tower of David.

I arrived early with three friends, and we took our seats dejectedly among only a few hundred others present. We grumbled that people were scared to come out to big public events, but as we looked toward the entrances, we began to see crowds streaming into the area. By the time the program started, almost all 5,000 seats were filled.

The savvy Jerusalemites could be distinguished from the visiting students, who showed up, still carrying with them the heat of the day, in T shirts and shorts. We huddled in our sweatshirts and jackets against the chill Jerusalem night air, but a great time was had by all.

The set was unusual and creative—a blaze of vivid color and light. The musical acts were terrific too. Well-known Israeli contemporary singers—most slightly older than those popular in the US or Great Britain—wowed the crowd with lively numbers. Eli Luzon, a powerful singer who’s albino, sang a few numbers with a beautiful young Ethiopian Jewish vocalist named Ayala Ingedshet. Yehudit Ravitz and Barry Sacharoff had the young people in the audience dancing in the aisles and singing along with their songs. The energy was palpable, as everyone let off steam at the end of another difficult week marked by the funerals of 20 young disco goers. The MC as well as Micha Lewensohn, Israel Festival director, made a point of thanking the people of Jerusalem for coming out to the concert.

Not to be outdone, the English-speaking community turned out in force for another cultural event—a semi-professional performance of the musical Guys and Dolls. The show had played to packed houses in Jerusalem, but I hadn’t managed to get there. I went to the opening night of the production in Jaffa. The Noga Theater is about three blocks from the Dolphinarium disco. The show opened four days after the suicide bomb attack but the theater was mobbed. Outdoor cafes next to the theater were filled with patrons, determined to enjoy their evening out.

The opening of the annual Hebrew Book Week fair was postponed for two days out of respect for the grieving families of the Dolphinarium victims. But when it did open last Monday, Safra Square in the center of Jerusalem was filled with bargain seekers and browsers. The week-long event brings publishers of every kind of book out to peddle their wares. From slick, coffee table volumes to esoteric Talmudic commentaries; brightly colored children’s books to the serious publications of all the major Israeli universities—it’s a bibliophile’s dream.

All these cultural events were conducted with the usual heavy security precautions, and all went off without a hitch. Life here goes on in the face of Arab threats of continued violence.

Arafat has badly misjudged the Israeli character if he thinks he’ll bring the country to its knees by terror tactics. Davka, we’ll go out and have a good time to prove to ourselves that we won’t give him the satisfaction.

Too bad our Diaspora brethren don’t see things the same way. Instead of running over to stand with us together to face the common enemy, they stay away in droves. The latest slap in the face was this week’s decision of US Reform leadership to cancel their summer youth trips here. The move precipitated condemnation from all quarters, including embarassed Israeli reform machers. The decision brought a swift end to any residue of sympathy for the Reform movement's struggle for acceptance here.

The likely postponement or cancellation of the Maccabiah Games, a move apparently initiated by the US and British delegations and supported by our increasingly wimpish Minister for Diaspora Affairs, Michael Melchior, stung the other cheek.

While we do our best under trying circumstances to go on with life as usual and thumb our noses at Arafat, his Fatah and Tanzim, the Diaspora caves in and hands them all a victory of sorts. The half empty planes and deserted hotels show how easy it’s been to make a dent in the shield that used to unite the Jewish people.

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