In Israel, we have a saying: “achrei ha’chagim,” after the holidays. Every year, instead of the two weeks Americans take off for the holiday season at the end of December, Israelis observe a group of holidays that spans the full month of Tishrei, usually around the end of summer. As the earth begins to quiet and prepare for winter, Israelis usually spend this time reflecting and visiting family. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur may be those that you’re most familiar with, but in Israel, Sukkot, Chol HaMoed and Simchat Torah are all part of a month in which Israelis slow down, enjoy family meals and take time from work, regardless of their level of religious observance.
This holiday season, Israel is likely to go through some significant soul-searching as a nation. As we consider the Gaza conflict and our responses to Hamas, Israelis may watch our newfound unity begin to unravel. What we can agree on, however, is that it’s good to have the ability to talk about these topics here, in the Jewish country. We are also all shocked at the vitriol that has accompanied the outbreak of anti-Semitic incidents in Turkey, France, America and throughout the world. Expect many an op-ed in Israeli newspapers, both English and Hebrew, debating whether we’re still living in 1930s Europe. These events are reminders of why many of us choose to move to Israel. There is nowhere in the world it is safer to be a Jew, despite the threat of rocket attacks.
Sophia (not her real name), a Danish oleh, or immigrant to Israel, put it most succinctly. On the last Friday in July, the Danish Zionist Organization held a pro-peace rally in Copenhagen with some Iranian dissidents. About an hour into the rally, other protesters began rallying around the group, armed with Hamas flags and chants of “Death to Jews,” and the police worried that violence may ensue. Instead of arresting those who wished harm on their fellow Danish citizens, Copenhagen police chose to dissolve the pro-peace rally because the police could no longer guarantee the safety of those in the square. Sophia told me it was the last straw, that she knows now that she could never move back to the place she grew up. One of her countries was spending hundreds of thousands of dollars inventing incredible, advanced technologies such as the Iron Dome to keep her safe from anything and everything that may be used to cause her harm, and the other country was telling her that her right to speak could easily be taken away by those who use violence to assert their positions.
The fallout of the fight against Hamas will be a larger, more drawn-out debate, both in Israel’s government and on the Israeli street. We can all agree, however, that we’re happy to have the ability to have the conversation here.
Merav Ceren is a contributing writer to JLife magazine.