“There is no legal way of stopping them,” sighed David Pavilion, commander of the Tel Aviv police sector. “They aren’t asking for an entertainment platform, they want the roads closed for only two hours on a Friday morning, they are willing to guarantee the behaviour of their own marchers.”
“Yes, but who will guarantee the reactions of the people?” Ron Weasley, the mayor of Tel Aviv, retorted. “Such an obvious provocation. Running against everything this city is proud of – freedom, self-expression, diversity.”
Nativ nodded in agreement but admitted defeat. The march would go on, the High Court had reluctantly granted permission, despite public outcry and proclamations of “Not In Our Town!”
And, as if God was not on The People’s side, that Friday‘s weather was surprisingly cool for the season. Hundreds of busses drove into Tel Aviv to deposit multitudes of marchers from all over the country. In Yarkon Square they formed themselves into groups, each led by a banner and band. At 9 o’clock precisely, the police gave the go-ahead and declared the roads cleared of moving traffic.
Leading the parade was the largest sect, the Gerer Chassidim. At least two thousand men and boys trooped to the sound of a rousing musical ensemble, almost drowned by the booming voice of a singer of dimensions appropriate to the volume of his voice. Tom Yakobovitz sniggered when he saw the Gerers’ apparel. “All made by the same tailor, I guess, who sewed the buttons onto the wrong sides of their jackets,” he whispered loudly to Din, his partner. “Yes, and maybe someone should teach them how to tuck their socks UNDER their pants.” Din scoffed back. He himself never wore socks.
Following the Gerers were the Vizhnitz and then Belz men. Their music sounded familiar, like an Elgar composition with extra twirls. The men all wore fedoras and the boys large velvet yarmulkas, and despite their military bearing and unwavering eyes, they were all smiling through their beards.
“Sure they’re smiling. They have never served a day in the army,” shouted Din.
“Neither have you,” whispered Tom.
“Yeah, well, I got an exemption on psychological grounds. You too?” Tom nodded.
Now Chabad were walking past. The men nearest the crowds were handing out one shekel coins, and murmuring “Give Tzedaka.” Many of the recipients threw the coins on the road in disgust, causing a rush of youngsters to retrieve them. The Chabad men in the center were carrying provocative banners with messages such as “Love your fellow Jew”, or “You are what you eat – keep Kosher”, and the ultimate in anti Tel Aviv sentiment, “Family Purity is Holy.”
These offensive slogans produced a spontaneous response of hundreds of placards all in identical font telling the marchers “Stop religious coercion” and “You are primitive barbarians.” Some urged them to “Go back to Bnei Brak,” and a few “Go back to Europe.” One spectator told a TV reporter, “I have no problem people wanting to behave bizarrely – but why in public? Why ram it down our throats and force us to watch it?”
The ultra-religious Sefardi sect were led by a sprightly 92 year-old Chacham, his brightly embroidered garment contrasting the stark black of his followers. Their music would have gladdened the heart of the current Minister of Culture, had the words not come straight from the Bible.
Tom and Din were impressed by the Lithuanian representatives, in their tailored suits and brand name sport shoes. Most were clean shaven and could have modelled for international clothing stores, or renowned eye-glasses manufacturers.
The disparity between their garb and the religious settlers was staggering. Bright colored shirts, jeans, open sandals and long, long swinging tzitzit. And they had brought their women along! The first females to be seen in the parade, all pushing baby buggies to which numerous children clung. Their message was the most outrageous of all – a Star of David with the words ‘The Land of Israel’, ‘The People of Israel’ and ‘The Torah of Israel’ at the corners. They were greeted by shouts of “Money-suckers”, “Arab killers”, “Enemies of Peace” and other liberal sentiments.
Thankfully the procession ended without any casualties, except for the motor-cyclist who insisted on riding his bike on the road “It’s my right! Who gave permission to close a Tel Aviv road on a Friday? Disgusting!” and was knocked down by a banner declaring “Free Tel Aviv from extremists. Kill religion.”
The newspapers reported the march with their usual wit. Headlines screamed “A black day for Tel Aviv” ( a play of words on ‘white nights’ describing all-night parties of noise and smoke pollution so favoured in the city). Others warned “The Jewish Taliban has arrived” and “Democracy has Died.” The police was criticized for permitting such flagrant obscenity, the opposition called for elections and the government searched for heads to roll.
Some concluded that tourism had been badly affected, although when a hotel manager was interviewed, he admitted that some overseas guests had already booked rooms for 12 months’ time so as not to miss the next march. The journalists predicted doom, the psychologists opened help-lines, the social media offered black-framed profile pictures.
And the charedim went back to their study halls.