A parade of performers dressed in costumes representing the season’s various holidays gathered in the northern city of Haifa for a festive celebration of the region’s religiously diverse community.
The annual festival, known as the Holiday of the Holidays, celebrates Christian Christmas, Muslim Eid al-Adha and Jewish Hanukkah.
Organizers say the event is meant to promote the religious and cultural diversity of Haifa, one of the country’s few mixed Jewish-Arab cities.
Even President Shimon Peres found himself caught up in the Christmas spirit, joining a children’s choir for a classic holiday tune.
While the festival attracted plenty of Muslims residents this year, Eid al-Adha was not actually celebrated because it took place in October.
Still, the event was a success, with attendees lining up to chat with performers and take part in the celebration.
The annual festival, which aims to bring Arab and Jewish communities closer together, attracts some 200,000 people from across Israel and abroad.
The 150-year-old hospital, which is run by the U.K. Christian charity, The Nazareth Trust, received the award for “demonstrating a positive, national impact on the country, its cross-community cultural sensitivity, educational outreach and contribution to Arab healthcare,” according to a press release.
“At a time when the world is focused on conflict and its aftermath in the Middle East, it is significant for an organisation such as ours—that is a Scottish Christian Charity, delivering the general hospital in an Arab city, in the Jewish State of Israel—and even older than the Modern State of Israel itself—to be honoured by the Israeli Parliamentary body in this way,” said Joseph R. Main, CEO, The Nazareth Trust.
The Chairman of the Knesset award is presented annually to recognize organizations that have made a contribution of national importance to communities and the wider society.
The Jerusalem Municipality awarded initial approval to a plan to rebuild the iconic Tifereth Israel synagogue in the Old City’s Jewish Quarter, a magnificent domed synagogue from the 19th century which was destroyed in the 1948 War of Independence.
The project will recreate the three-story-tall synagogue as well as the iconic dome on the top, with only minor changes to the original, such as the introduction of an elevator to make the building more accessible. On Tuesday, the municipality’s Local Planning and Building Committee approved the plan for the next step of the process, where it must receive the approval of the Interior Ministry. An anonymous donor who has been active in previous rebuilding projects in the Old City donated nearly NIS 50 million needed for reconstruction, said Shlomi Attias, the Old City project manager for The Company for the Reconstruction and Development of the Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem Ltd. (JQDC). The JQDC is a public company under the auspices of the Ministry of Construction and Housing. The synagogue is located just a few hundred meters from the Western Wall Plaza, in the same plaza as the Hurva.
Ashkenazi hassidim bought the land for Tifereth Israel Synagogue in 1843, though the building wasn’t inaugurated until 1872. The synagogue is also known as the Nissan Bek synagogue, after its founder. The prominent white dome on top of the building was informally known as “Franz Joseph’s cap,” after the Austrian emperor who visited Jerusalem in 1869. On a tour of Jewish sites, Franz Joseph inquired as to why the unfinished synagogue had no dome, to which one quick-thinking rabbi replied, ”Your majesty the Emperor, the synagogue has doffed its hat for you!” The emperor donated the sum needed to finish the roof.
During the Independence War in 1948, the building was used as a Haganah defense position, similar to the nearby Hurva synagogue. Arab League forces demolished the synagogue with explosives at 1 a.m. on May 21, just a few days before the Hurva met the same fate. Following the Six Day War, the city decided to leave the ruins of the synagogue as they were.
“The municipality sees great importance in preserving and rebuilding Jerusalem’s heritage sites,” Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat said in a statement released by his office. “The Tifereth Israel synagogue was a symbol of the Jewish “Yishuv” (settlement) in Jerusalem and we are proud to bring it back and rebuild it anew.”
Attias of the JQDC, which is overseeing the project, said that the required archaeological excavations can begin soon, even before the project receives the final approval for construction. Actual construction will take at least three years as the site is difficult for construction vehicles to access.
The Jerusalem Post first reported plans to rebuild the Tifereth Israel Synagogue in June. A UNESCO report expressed apprehension over the project due to the possibility of wide-spread rioting. In March 2010, riots broke out across east Jerusalem and the Old City with the dedication of the Hurva Synagogue, located in the same plaza.
The Hurva synagogue, which stood since the early 18th century, was also destroyed in the 1948 Independence War.
As the dedication neared, Palestinians called for a “day of rage,” stoked by Muslim extremists who said the rededication was the first step towards building the Third Temple and destroying the Dome of the Rock. Police arrested sixty people, and more than 100 protesters were injured, as well as 15 policemen.
A municipality spokeswoman said the city is unconcerned about the possibility of a resurgence in violence sparked by the reconstruction project. “The synagogue is a symbol of the Jewish Quarter and is not controversial,” she said.
Anet Haskia is not the typical mom of a soldier serving in the Israel Defense Forces. A Muslim Arab, who grew up in a mixed Arab-Jewish city in the north, Haskia is breathing a little easier this week.
For Haskia, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision not to enter the Gaza Strip last week was “brave and right.”
The mother of three children, with a 20-year-old IDF combat soldier, Haskia told Tazpit News Agency, that “many Israeli soldiers’ lives were saved thanks to that decision.”
“Going into Gaza would have yielded success for the Hamas terrorists. Israel did what it had to do for the time being to stop the rocket attacks and played it smart.”
Haskia who was born and raised in Akko, a mixed Arab-Jewish city in the Western Galilee in northern Israel, is openly vocal about her support for the Jewish State of Israel.
“I am proud to live in Israel,” she says. “I am even prouder that both my sons have served as soldiers for this country.”
“If I was living in Gaza, I would have no rights as a woman under Hamas,” explained Haskia. “And you can’t expect anything different—Hamas is a terror organization, they treat people like animals with no regard to human life. They will never hold democratic elections like they do in Israel.”
“I’m open about these truths,” adds Haskia. “The Arab MKs in the Israeli Knesset don’t represent me. The extremist left-wing in Israel also doesn’t represent me and others in my community who share my beliefs. Those corrupt politicians just contribute to hate, incitement and lies.”
“When an IDF soldier is killed in combat, not one Arab MK will stand up and offer his condolences to the bereaved family,” she exclaims. “These Arab MKs enjoy democratic rights but don’t appreciate them.”
Anet explains that her attitude towards the Jewish state as a member of the Arab minority country stems from the fact that she was raised in a home that “respected both Hebrew and Arabic-speakers.”
“When I grew up in Akko, we had good relations between Jewish and Arab families.”
“I realized early on that I wanted my children to advance in Israeli society. They studied in a private Jewish school on a kibbutz and were exposed to a different mentality. It was not an easy road, but I taught my children to always be proud of their identity and not to cry and whine like our politicians.”
During Israel’s Operation Pillar of Defense, Haskia did not just sit worried over what may happen to her son—the proud mom did her share to help Israel as well. “Over 12 years, Hamas has been firing rockets at Israeli civilians and all you see are photos of Gaza in the media. Some of those photos are fakes,” Haskia pointed out.
“I noticed many times in Arab media that ‘Gaza’ photos of bleeding civilians were actually photos from other Arab conflicts in the Middle East— Syria and Iraq for example. They were being used to incite hatred against Israel, so I started to post these fake photos and their origins on my Facebook wall.”
Haskia, however, has political ambitions as well. “I want to be part of Israeli politics some day and make a change by representing my people politically. There are many people who are too scared to speak up, who love Israel like I do and have done well here. They want a future where their children will not fall to hatred and incitement, but overcome that. I want to be their voice,” she concludes.
“The stage is where I’m the most comfortable,” says Norman Issa, the prolific Israeli-Arab actor. “It’s there that I feel free, like I’m flying. In theater, everything is alive – you feel the audience, you can smell it. Even if I’m upset, when I get onstage I forget about everything. It’s my therapeutic place, my psychologist.”
Issa is best known among foreign audiences for his work on the popular TV series “Arab Labor,” where he plays Sayed Kashua’s alter ego, but for now, we’re going to put that aside to focus on his directorial efforts at the Fringe Night Festival. “Einayim” (Eyes) is a show about the work of the Palestinian Arab poet Mahmoud Darwish, which hits the stage Nov. 7, at the Arab-Hebrew Theater in Jaffa. Its cast includes Einat Weizman, Anat Hadid, Doraid Liddawi and Mira Awad, who set Darwish’s poems to music for the performance, will sing them in Hebrew and in Arabic.