Galilee Diary #478, February 17, 2010 Marc Rosenstein
Who is the mightiest of the mighty? He who conquers his urges... Some say: He who turns his enemy into a friend. -Avot d'Rabbi Nathan, version A chapter 23
Since leaving the United States we have been living on the edge of Asia - and Africa is just next door. I have developed somewhat of a fascination with this near neighbor and the experiences and cultures of some of its many nations. In particular, the transition from Apartheid to democracy in South Africa in the 90s has been a subject that I find most interesting and inspiring. Therefore, as soon as it opened here, we went to see Invictus, Clint Eastwood's new film on Nelson Mandela's use of rugby as a force for creating a shared identity and culture among the disparate populations of his newly liberated nation. It was sort of schmaltzy, but then, the reality was pretty schmaltzy. And there is no question that Nelson Mandela was a rare example of a leader who truly had vision, and who led his people away from their natural instincts of revenge and domination, presiding over a process of reconciliation from which perhaps we could learn.
We went to the 7:15 show on Saturday night at the huge, sprawling mall in Kiryat Bialik, in the midst of the strip of industrial suburbs lining Haifa Bay. While American malls tend to cultivate an image of posh, quiet luxury, Israeli malls have a carnival/market atmosphere - bright lights and loud music. This one stretches over a number of buildings - there is every clothing brand you can imagine, and the place is so spread out that some of them even have more than one store. Dozens of restaurants, fast food and up.
When we went into the theater (a multiplex with about 15 theaters; the two of us constituted about 10% of the audience in ours), the mall was populated mostly with families with young children, there for the fast food and the various forms of kid-centered entertainment (films, play areas, video arcades), and of course shopping. When we emerged at 9:30 the place was so packed it was hard to walk. There was a pretty complete cross-section of Israeli society: middle aged couples sitting in the coffee shops, flocks/herds/gangs of teenagers strutting their stuff, dressed to kill; Arab families, Orthodox families, Russian and Ethiopian immigrants. There were lines at every fast food outlet. Everyone was carrying plastic bags of purchases. Saturday night at the mall is clearly the place to be. We sat down to pizza in one of the food courts and were so enjoying just watching the endless, jostling, variegated parade of people that we were reluctant to get up and go back out into the dark, cold night and drive home.
Soccer games in Israel are often marred by cheers of "death to the Arabs." And the games are usually on Saturday, which is a problem for those who keep Shabbat. Mandela's use of sport to build his nation doesn't seem to have the same potential here as it did in South Africa. Anyway, leaders of Mandela's moral stature and grace are not common anywhere in the world, and certainly not in this neighborhood. Yet sitting in the mall on Saturday night, you might have thought that we had all the problems solved. Bright lights, happy music, crowds of contented consumers peacefully enjoying a little leisure together. Live and let live. Buy and let buy. It would be nice if our cultural common denominator could be something more uplifting than shopping, but if it works I guess I shouldn't knock it. Religion has had anything but a calming effect here - it seems that consuming is the real opiate of the masses.