Graffiti in Israel

As Assad slaughters his own citizens without compunction in Syria, and Gaddafi vows to fight to the last inch – it’s necessary at times to seek a distraction from this crazy neighborhood and its even crazier dictators.
Which is why I want to point attention to some of the clever political slogans and messages scrawled across neighborhood walls in Tel Aviv – almost like the unoffical mouthpiece of the Israeli street but with that quirky cynical angle.

israeli grafittiReads: “Orthodox Jews, please place tefillin (phylacteries) on our [Secular] children”

This piece of grafitii was taken in South Tel Aviv – reknowned as a bastion of Secularism, and a general enmity toward observance. The reason I chose it is because it’s funny and raises a relevant issue to the fore – that of the secular/religious divide in Israel. Hilonim (Secular Jews) feel increasingly threatened by Hardedim (ultra-orthodox Jews) for what they see as religious intolerance, whilst Haredim feel simultaneously threatened by secular Jews for what they claim is a bid to ostrazice their entire demographic from society.

The sign reads: “חרדים הניחו לילדנו, תפילין”
Prima facie, the text can be translated as “Haredim, please lay tefillin on our children“. The verb in the sentence “henichu” (הניחו) is then exact verb used in morning prayers (Shacarit) before males place tefillin on their arms. (The prayer consists of “lehaniach tefillin” (להניח תפילין). So the verb used in the prayer is essentially a call by the secular residents to educate their children along the lines of religious Judaism. Indeed, at first, this seems like a feel-good bridge-building slogan, in which secular Jewish society reaches out to their God-fearing brothers, in a bid to shoulder and accept the heavy yoke of religious observance.

However, the text is in fact far more sinister and cynical: The meaning is changed, once the comma separating “children” (ילדנו) and “Tefilin” (תפילין) is taken into account. This premidated punctuation mark changes the meaning of the verb “henichu” (הניחו) from “lay” or “place” to “leave” or “go away”. So in fact, once all punctuation is taken into account, the slogan reads: “Hardeim, leave our children alone; Tefillin

Also note the fact that the text itself is written in biblical font. Perhaps a lesson in irony to boot!

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