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Living the Contradiction
by Judy Lash Balint
June 1, 2006

Hizbollah Katyushas hit northern Israel, seriously injuring an Israeli soldier at Kibbutz Menara, site of the Menara Cable Car, one of the country's best tourist attractions. Residents piled into the bomb shelters. Another missile hits Mt. Meron, just outside Tsfat. Two days later, Kassam rockets rain down on Sderot in the south, Nothing new here--the barrage has been going on since last summer's Gaza withdrawal. Only difference is that this time, one of the Kassams lands on the house next door to the home of Amir Peretz, our new Defense Minister. The house belongs to Motti Eskenazi, a veteran Voice of Israel radio broadcaster. Just hours after the early morning "incident" flattens his roof and caves in his kitchen, Eskenazi calmly tells his radio colleagues on the air that the damage will keep him home for a while.

Ilana, another neighbor, describes how she watched in horror as the Kassam descended in her direction milliseconds after the "Red Dawn" warning siren sounded. "There was no time to run to the protected room; no time to do anything but pray," she says.

"We're not going anywhere--we're used to this. But we're waiting for our neighbor Amir to come and see it for himself," she concludes before wishing listeners a quiet day.

Oddly enough, in Jerusalem it is a quiet day, security-wise, anyway. One homicide bomber is caught at a checkpoint outside Shechem (Nablus) before heading into the capital, but from the level of cultural activity in the city you would be forgiven for thinking that Jerusalem is a city where the only concern of the citizens is how to enjoy themselves. Ironically, in recent years when the homicide terrorists left Jerusalemites breathless with the frequency of their daily incursions into our lives, the situation was reversed. The rest of the country went about their business while we traipsed in a daze of grief from funeral to shiva house--there was virtually no one in the city then who didn't know someone injured or killed in a terror attack.

The Jerusalem of Spring 2006 is an entirely different place. There are simply not enough hours in the day to take advantage of all the city has to offer. Last week the two-week long Israel Festival opened, featuring world class performers from France, India, England and Russia. Concerts in Independence Park close to the center of town feature opera singers and fireworks that can be heard and seen from all over the city. In the courtyard of the Jerusalem Theater a tea house with mimes and dancers attracts crowds who pile into the foyer for the free jazz sessions that start at 10:30p.m. every night of the festival. The closing session of the festival will be an outdoor concert of the best of Israel's pop singers that will take place in Sultan's Pool, right below the walls of the Old City.

Two days before the start of the Shavuot holiday, Emek Refaim Street in the German Colony neighborhood hosts a lively street fair that brings out thousands who wander between music stages; booths selling jewelery and hand-made clothing as well as all kinds of (kosher) finger food, beer and wine. The atmosphere among the diverse crowd is relaxed and festive. The music runs from klezmer to jazz to bluegrass and Irish. A harpist/singer is surrounded by a crowd that joins in as she delivers a rendition of the Yiddish classic "Bei Mir Bist Du Shein," followed by a classic Ladino love song.

Several organizations use the occasion to pass out literature and circulate petitions for their cause. The one that attracts the most attention is the campaign to stop construction of two multi-storey hotels just down the street from the fair.

Tonight, as Shavuot begins, there are all kinds of venues offering the opportunity to observe the tradition of all-night Torah study. Whether it's well-known scholars like Rabbi David Hartman or Avivah Zornberg, or younger teachers from across the religious spectrum, the study halls will be filled. At 4 a.m. we'll all start to make our way by foot through the darkened, traffic-free streets toward the Kotel. It's as if there's a magnet drawing us from every part of the city to the center of the Jewish world. As we pour into the Kotel plaza by the thousands, we'll watch as the midnight-blue sky receives the first rays of sunlight that rise from the east over the Western Wall,listen to the song of the starlings as they greet the morning and wait as everyone starts the morning prayers at exactly the same moment of sunrise shortly before 5 a.m.

We'll be sure to pray for the peace of our fellow citizens not too far away in Sderot and the north.