Thursday, June 27, 2013

You can't turn back time

Dan  Margalit
Israel Hayom

When I was growing up in Tel Aviv, on Saturdays you could put on your roller skates at the corner Nahalat Binyamin and Allenby streets, next to the Pil shoe store, and skate in one fell swoop all the way to Jaffa Street. There was not a single car around. The only potential accident was the possibility of crashing into one of the buildings on the side of the road.

Sure, I still miss the songs of Rika Zarai, who sang about old Tel Aviv and the trees that used to blossom on its streets. So what? You can't turn the clock back. The first Hebrew city has been a fascinating place ever since its establishment in 1909, and it still is fascinating in 2013. But now, it is different. Even the Supreme Court can't turn back time.

Tel Aviv has known its fair share of battles over the sanctity of Shabbat. Not as intensely as the battles waged in Jerusalem, but it was not entirely spared. In most of Tel Aviv's early neighborhoods, Shabbat was like Yom Kippur. Only the rich drove to the beach, while the poor would get there by foot. When the newspaper Haaretz and the theater Habima jointly launched a series of noontime Shabbat events -- loosely modeled after Haim Nahman Bialik's mythological Oneg Shabbat events held in Tel Aviv's Ohel Shem in the 1920s -- the organizers of the event required a police escort. Jewish worshippers violently demonstrated against the event.

Ultimately, a kind of status quo was established in the city that never sleeps. Based neither on principles nor or ideology, in fact there is no logical explanation as to why it settled where it did, and is now pushing its boundaries. There is no justice to it, merely dust that settled. This status quo also included the food markets, some of which continued to operate on Shabbat.
Now, suddenly the Supreme Court comes along and decided that in order to prevent discrimination -- because the small mom-and-pop shops don't have as many employees as the larger chains and cannot open seven days a week -- all markets must be closed. On Wednesday, it emerged that it wasn't only the food markets that would now be forced to close on Shabbat, but also the entertainment establishments that operate at Tel Aviv's ports.

This decision garnered a lot of support from the city's coalition, which is unlike nearly almost any previous coalition in Tel Aviv. The leftists support closing down the shops on the basis of social ideals, while the religious representatives support closing the shops on the basis of the sanctity of Shabbat. That's all well and good, but in the current modern secular economic, social and cultural reality, these ideals are no longer relevant. Even the religious officials who have no choice but to support closing businesses on Shabbat know deep down in their hearts that this is a decree that the public will not tolerate. The wise ones prefer not to comment on the issue at all. In their eyes, Tel Aviv has become too hedonistic, and even if anyone wanted to change that, it would not be so easy.
The Supreme Court makes one good point: If the leaders of the city -- mainly Mayor Ron Huldai -- want to preserve the "city that never sleeps" image, they need to adjust the city's bylaws to the reality that exists in the city on Shabbat. That is what a responsible adult would do: Formulate a law and stick to it, rather than allowing the reality to violate the law. Huldai, who has been an admirable mayor, has now come across a convenient card to play in the next election, unless he turns the other way and then his challenger, Meretz MK Nitzan Horowitz, will benefit.

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