Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The myth of secular Tel Aviv

The so-called secular folk of Tel Aviv take great pride in not being too Jewish - there is even a Hebrew word for "Kike" which they employ to denigrate anyone exhibiting too many signs of identifying with anything too overtly religiously or culturally Jewish.

Yet I was in Molly Bloom's Irish pub having a pint and watching the Chelsea match (still in Tel Aviv for those who are confused), and by half-time it was dark outside. The barman got everyone's attention, put a chanukiah on the bartop, lit the shammash and said all the brachot, then conducted the whole pub in the opening verse of Maoz Tzur. Everyone participated, most people covering their heads with an assortment of beermats, drip-towels and other random drink-related implements.

It struck me as a fascinating moment of layered irony. Here we were, in Israel but in a pub that has recreated the environment of a Dublin bar so accurately for its escapist patrons that they even set the clocks to Irish time, watching goishke football on Boxing Day. But everyone respectfully and passionately joined in the celebration of Chanukah, a festival that celebrates the victory of the priestly Maccabees over the Hellenist occupiers who were corrupting and secularising the Jewish population.

No matter what they try to do to escape it, Israelis ultimately have the old nefesh yehudi that just won't quit.

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