This year, for the first time since 1981, the Jews’ biggest fast overlapped with one of Islam’s biggest feasts.
The two holy days, Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) and Eid ul-Adha (Festival of the Sacrifice, or Eid for short), have polar-opposite energy levels: Eid is about abundance and is celebrated by Muslim Palestinians with a flurry of barbecues, mini Ferris-wheel rides, family reunions and shopping trips.
Jewish Israelis observing Yom Kippur, in contrast, sink into such a deep state of prayer and repentance that even the secular among them don’t dare start an engine or crank a stereo. For one day each year, the Israeli airport shuts down and the nation’s streets empty out; even police vehicles turn off their sirens.
So, while the world marveled over “Eid Kippur,” as it came to be called, the holiday overlap set off warning bells for leaders of mixed Arab-Jewish towns in Israel.
“All of us were expecting clashes — a very black situation,” said Raies Abu Seif, a 43-year-old criminal attorney and community leader in the central Arab-Jewish city of Ramle.
Conflict wounds were fresh. A devastating 50-day war between Israel and Gaza had ended only one month before, ripping hundreds of families apart. And soon after, just days before the holidays, Israeli and Palestinian heads of state voiced new extremes at the United Nations General Assembly: Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called the war a “genocide,” while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu compared Gaza’s government to ISIS.
Perhaps to compensate — and to avoid violent riots like the ones that hit the northern town of Acre on Yom Kippur 2008 — Jewish and Muslim leaders across Israel launched a vigorous campaign urging tolerance on Eid Kippur.
Palestinian children in Jerusalem’s Old City wait in line for their turn on a mini Ferris wheel set up for the Eid holiday.
On Oct. 2, Israel’s newly anointed President Reuven Rivlin met with Muslim leaders on neutral territory — the majority Christian town of Kafr Yassif.
“As with any meeting of worlds, the coincidence of these holidays this year has all the ingredients to be a source of friction, just as it offers every reason to be used as an opportunity to repair and make a fresh start,” Rivlin said.
And a few miles away in Acre, according to the Christian Science Monitor, the local sheikh was telling a room full of junior-high school students: “We have a life and a future, but sometimes there is a small minority that waits for the moment to wreck it all. Don’t let them. Don’t let anyone from the Jewish side or the Arab side dirty the beautiful picture of Acre.”
These pleas from the top were apparently heeded on Eid Kippur, when, according to Muslim and Jewish residents who spoke to the Journal, a tragic and tense summer gave way to a remarkably peaceful fall holiday.
Ramle attorney Abu Seif guessed that perhaps the hype was so intense that everyone overcorrected.
“After a situation of big anxiety — many talks, many meetings, publications on Facebook and all the media asking, ‘How will we overcome this day?’ — it was actually very quiet. I was very surprised,” he said.
In fact, said Ramle Mayor Yoel Lavi, “It was better than most days.”
According to Mayor Lavi, the city received zero complaints on Oct. 4 from city residents. From his own home, too, the mayor said he heard “nothing — not a thing. The city was absolutely quiet during Yom Kippur.”
In Ramle, an interfaith council made up of more than 40 community leaders met for several Eid Kippur-themed meetings in the weeks before the big day.
During these talks, the council’s Muslim members ended up making some key concessions: For the first time ever, three of Ramle’s main streets would be blocked off from traffic, and mosques would be required to turn down their loudspeakers.
Abu Seif also said he knew of many Muslim citizens who made the personal choice to walk, instead of drive, to the mosque for morning prayers. Others, he said, postponed the sacrifice of the lamb — normally performed on the first day of Eid — to the second day.
Some younger Muslim residents were somewhat frustrated about the dampened festivities, Abu Seif said. “Today the younger people have more awareness about their identity, and about their Eid” than on the last holiday overlap circa 1981, he told the Journal. “They know more about their rights.”
But in the end, he said, “They know this happens only once in about 33 years. And they know the importance of Yom Kippur, because their families are living here many, many years.”
According to Israel Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld, in all the mixed Arab-Jewish towns across Israel where police deployed extra forces, the only incident on Oct. 4 was a local brawl in Haifa. (“But not necessarily because of the holiday,” he added.)
In Jaffa — the old Arab port town annexed into Tel Aviv in 1948 — a car full of young men sped down a main street on in the afternoon of Oct. 4, music blaring from its open windows. The Orthodox Jews whose prayers drifted from a nearby synagogue, though, didn’t seem to mind. Just a few buildings down, a stream of secular young Israeli Jews ran through the alcohol stock of a corner shop owned by an Israeli-Arab who had doubled his prices for Eid Kippur.
“Eid Kippur: One set of Jaffa neighbors blasting Israeli pop, another has Cheb Khaled on repeat,” journalist Gregg Carlstrom tweeted. “Coexistence through bad music.”
One hour east, within the stone confines of Jerusalem’s historic Old City — where deeply religious residents are packed tightly into four quarters, divided by faith — the day went just as smoothly, Jewish and Muslims residents later told the Journal.
“We stayed on our side, and they stayed on theirs,” said Muslim teenager Basel Jaber. An Ethiopian-Israeli security guard standing near the Western Wall, who did not wish to give his name, confirmed as much.
A couple of days later, on Oct. 6, across the Old City near the exit to the world-famous Aqsa mosque and Dome of the Rock, an elderly man from Gaza with tears in his eyes said he and his wife had just prayed at the golden monument for the first time since they were teenagers.
“It’s so beautiful,” he said. “I wish my sons and daughters could be here.”
The 75-year-old, who didn’t want to give his name for fear that Israel might deny him a permit to visit the mosque next year, was one of around 1,500 Gaza citizens over the age of 60 allowed into Jerusalem and the West Bank over the three days of Eid.
On Oct. 6 in Jerusalem, a Muslim woman shopped for Eid ul-Adha while a group of Jewish women carried home palm fronds for the upcoming Sukkot holiday.
This flow of visitors reportedly marks Israel’s most significant ease of its blockade on the Gaza Strip since 2007.
Thousands of West Bank residents also were allowed to visit friends and family in Israel during the Eid holiday. One of them, Hamud Abdalla, a 20-something Palestinian tour guide from Bethlehem, said he was granted a three-day pass into Israel with only four days notice. (He said he’d applied for a pass before but wasn’t approved.)
On his first day in Israel, Abdalla took a one-hour shared taxi ride west to Tel Aviv and saw the Mediterranean Sea for the first time in his life.
“Oh wow, it was so amazing,” he said of the sea. And of the many Jewish people he met at the beach, he said: “They were very open-minded. Everywhere you go, you see happy people.
Abdalla guessed this ease of restrictions also helped feed the Yom Kippur calm.
Abu Seif, the attorney from Ramle, agreed. “If you release things and people have more movement, there will be more understanding,” he said. “The people will be more at ease, not feeling anger and hatred. Because the more you put people under pressure, the more you find them frustrated, conflicted.”
In downtown Los Angeles, everything old is new again