Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Yom Kippur = Bike Day? ?יום הכיפורים: יום אופניים

Jeremy Benstein writes that by creating a car-free environment, “…on Yom Kippur, it's no accident that we create an urban environment that makes us all fellow citizens…”.

While I applaud all reduction of car use and consumption, I fear that Benstein is being too kind in his interpretations, correct though he is politically. For my part, I’ve always had an uneasy sense regarding the whole “Yom Kippur equals bicycle free-for-all” phenomenon. In fact, I beg to differ that this one-day phenomenon makes us all fellow citizens; I propose that the contrary is true.

Implicit in all this “fear-free” cycling is the assumption, once again, that everyone here is Jewish. While the kids whiz around on their bikes and scooters, the grownups smile in approbation. Saturday in the Park. Feelin’ Groovy. Everyone’s enjoying themselves. But are they? In those smiles, and in all this seemingly innocuous fun, lie wholesale disregard for the fact that fully a quarter of Israel’s population isn’t Jewish. Along with that comes the fact that hundreds of thousands of Israelis are not observing Yom Kippur, any one of whom could by rights drive down any street at any moment, oblivious (or not) to the fact that we Jews are (arrogantly) assuming that our pedestrian and two-wheeled safety on this day is (Divinely?) guaranteed.

Where Benstein sees fellowship and coexistence, I see, once again, the colonialist face of Zionism, i.e., this land was empty when the first Jewish pioneers came, and a century later, we’re still not owning up to the fact that it’s not all ours, that others live here too.

It’s just another manifestation of the worldview that allows that certain groups (e.g., the ultra-Orthodox) have the right to close off their streets on the Sabbath, or that this practice is even negotiable. Do Jews residing in Crown Heights or Borough Park do this? Of course not, and that’s because in the States, at least, the streets are understood to be the public domain, whereon anyone can drive; no one resident or group of residents is allowed to decide on their own that use of their street is prohibited to the motoring public. Yom Kippur cycling is nothing more than a secular version of the Sabbath street-closing phenomenon. The message is the same: “We’re creating facts on the ground. We’ve taken over, like it or lump it.” It certainly doesn’t resonate as the fellowship that Benstein has in mind.

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