Monuments are better neighbours than people - this idea can
easily come to mind when observing how the number of 'functioning'
lights multiplies in the chanukiah (special set of nine candles) placed
in the Vincas Kudirka square near the Government building.
previously known as the Municipality square, has been restructured and a
monument to the famous patriotic writer, the author of the
Lithuanian anthem, was built. These days forgotten debates about his
place in Lithuanian history have been reignited, on no other occasion
than to remind the population of his 'folkish' anti-semitism (see
commentaries by ,
defense of Kudirka by ).
Kudirka is known for publishing, in the early stage of his career,
collections of classical anti-semitic beliefs. Now his monument, which
reminds some critics of young Lenin, is a silent, non-pretentious
neighbour to the only public menorah in central Vilnius. Seems like a
no-drama situation, even though I was paranoid enough to wonder whether
the menorah will face a snowball attack from local basketball fans after
Tel Aviv Maccabi won against Kaunas Žalgiris in the Euroleague (one of
the main basketball championships in the region) on the second day of
Hanukkah (I also wonder how many times the Tel Aviv team toasted to the
Maccabees that night). But even if the locals had seen a connection, it
is Kaunas' team, not Vilnius, that lost.
Though the night is cold and dark.
In our soul, there lies a spark.
Each of us, is one small light.
All together, we shine bright. (Classical Hanukkah song)
Unfortunately, bad news
arrived from the place I lived in just so recently (and what the
connection with Hanukkah is, I will explain below). On Tuesday 'dozens'
of municipal rabbis in Israel, paid from taxpayers' money, forbidding the renting of apartments to Gentiles
(non-Jews) and particularly Arabs (from as much as I know the context,
the ruling is something like a against Salman Rushdie - people will follow
if they highly respect this authority, but there is no universal
religious validity). Although the ruling was condemned by many human
rights groups and a couple of members of the Knesset, and even the Prime
Minister, I haven't heard that any of these rabbis would be fired. Here
is a translation of - there's not much to add. It's just
that I can't help but react sensitively to such processes happening
unhindered in a place I left so recently. I remember my former landlord,
partly observant, who was worried about the multiple pressures
resulting from renting apartments for guest-workers (there are plenty,
and they already find it hard to find an affordable place). Obviously, I
don't doubt his or most of other landlords' sanity. But the ruling will
legitimise the racism of those landlords who do want to discriminate (I
hope that the civil government will take action to punish them
disregarding the local-level religious ruling).
This time the issue is not about the populations of the occupied territories. and of East Jerusalem have become weekly news in the web of various processes, including military control, desperate violence, poverty, and ethnic prejudice on both (all?) sides. However, the ruling from the religious authorities concerns Arab citizens of 'Israel proper', who have voting rights and pay taxes, from which the salaries are paid to the municipal rabbis.
And more than that. As for non-citizen tenants, this would mean even more stress and additional costs. Non-Jewish students, interns and volunteers (and there are more of them than you think) will feel more unwelcome, and guest-workers already they are unwelcome. Many of these people are anything but rich, which pushes them to live in cheaper, suburban, often more religious areas (of course, secular persons or non-Jews are unlikely to move to neighbourhoods). Of course, as I said, there's no need to panic. Most landlords are sane and economically-minded. There are many ways to sub-rent rooms from open-minded students and young professionals (although I think, while living there, I've heard of only one Jewish-Arab household, and no Israeli-guest-worker households - on the other hand, sharing apartments between Israelis and volunteers/ foreign students is common). However, if the ruling goes unpunished, it will create a tense atmosphere: landlords who are ready to rent will know they are now fewer and may use the ruling as a tactic to threaten the foreigners that they must hurry to accept any offer they receive, because others 'may not want to break the religious law'. The bargaining position of already very disadvantaged tenants will become even weaker. Let me remind you that housing prices in Israeli cities are already insanely high. I don't know what the situation of Arab tenants is - I assume there is, like in Europe sometimes, accent-based discrimination when talking on the phone and the like. But from what I know, most Arab citizens prefer to own a place rather than rent, so the ruling would put mobile people, such as students, in a disadvantage.
Unlike pre-war Germany that many comparisons have been made with, Israel [still] has active civil society, and various groups immediately this disgusting abuse of religious authority. And what I found particularly inspirational was that people made creative use of Hanukkah symbols. Once again, Hanukkah is the festival of lights, which conveys a hopeful message about what is believed to be a miracle of endurance. Celebrating a historic victory, the oil for fire in the temple, rationed for one day, was enough for eight - the inspiring multiplier effect is very relevant to the situation of the civil society in Israel today. a human rights activist, critic and poet Yuval Ben-Ami (you have read about my adventures with him) holds a poster which reads "We have come to cast out racism" at a demonstration against the ruling. The poster makes a direct reference to the Hanukkah song that I quoted at the beginning of this blog post (the literal translation of the first line is "We have come to cast out darkness", further - "in our hands - light and fire"). It is really impressive that the active people in Israel carry and cherish the small lights in themselves and manage to put them together when needed - they are under much more pressure than similar groups in Europe.