Don’t you hate it when you accept an invitation to a wedding or bar mitzvah, and then remember that you have tickets for something that same night?

So what do you do? Try to get rid of the tickets? Try to wheedle out of your social obligation? Try to attend both?

Well, after my wife and I purchased tickets to this evening’s screening at the Jerusalem Cinematheque, we realized that we had also accepted an invitation to a bar/bat mitzvah celebration. You know, family friends from the US on a bar/bat mitvah tour….So my wife, who is native Israeli, went to the Cinemathèque, and I, the native American, went to the Bar/Bat Mitvah event.

Geographically, we were ten minutes walking-distance from each other. Psychologically we were in different worlds

I was in a world or country that I shall call “Jisrael” – Jewish Israel. Jisrael is a country that exists in the consciousness of Jews living outside Israel, and of those Anglos who come to live here. It is the Israel of the English-speaking subculture in Jerusalem, Raanana, Beit Shemesh, and the bedroom yuppie communities of the West Bank like Efrat, Alon Shvut, etc. In Jisrael, Hebrew is spoken, if at all, with an American accent. Most of the inhabitants of Jisrael nowadays are orthodox. In Jisrael, nobody is surprised when the bar and bat mitzvah from America give speeches celebrating their heroes, King David and Golda Meir. Everybody expects them to profess their love for Israel and Eretz Yisrael, and their father to speak with that American religious-zionist twinge of guilt for living in Suburban Maryland and not here. At the reception, the tables for the guests had Jisraeli place names including Masada, Hebron, and Kever Rachel. Now in Israel these places are, respectively, the past home of Jewish terrorists, the present home of Jewish terrorists, and an holy place invented during the Byzantine period, and then appropriated by the Muslims, and later by the Jews. (I don’t know many things I, but I know that the odds of the matriarch Rachel being buried in Kever Rachel are one in a zillion.)

Most importantly, in Jisrael the only Arabs are street cleaners, construction workers, or terrorists. They aren’t doctors, lawyers, teachers, or professionals. They aren’t people you socialize with.

My wife, ten minutes away, was in the country of Israel. She was quite literally sitting in Gehenna, since the Jerusalem Cinematheque is in the valley identified by archaeologists as Gei Ben Hinnom, the Gehenna of the New Testament (and who knows if they are right?). But emotionally she was sitting in another Gehenna, because she was watching ten short films on Jerusalem. Sponsored by the Jerusalem NGO, Ir Amim.

Hebrew readers can read about the films here

While I was singing Hava Nagila and Oseh Shalom Bimromav, my wife was seeing films about four Palestinian brothers who support their families by selling chewing gum to Jewish motorists at intersections. She saw a short film about Said al-Haradin, who wakes up at the crack of dawn each day to embark upon a journey of several hours to get to al-Quds university in Abu Dis – a ten minute walk away from his refugee camp. Or a documentary by a Palestinian film student about how an Arab cab driver took into his home a Jewish woman with her family after they had been evicted from their flat.

The most powerful film was about the hideous “creatures” that for years have terrorized Palestinians, destroying their homes, building walls around and through their lands, and making life miserable for them. Last week, for the first time, the same creatures turned against the Jews. I refer, of course, to the Caterpillar bulldozers.

The films were not, on the whole, heavy-handed or propagandistic. There were no films about Israeli soldiers beating up Palestinian civilians, or about suicide bombers, or about Shin Bet infiltrators. The emphasis was on how normal people live abnormal lives in the shrinking Gehenna that is Palestinian Jerusalem.

What would the Jews from Jisrael had felt had they attended the film screening? Some would have been deeply affected and deeply perplexed. Others would have pointed fingers at the Palestinians and would absolve the Israeli Jews of responsibility. But most would have had great difficulty recognizing Israel because of the Jisrael they had created.

What room was there for hope? Only this – the Jerusalem movie theater was filled with Jews and Palestinians, speaking to each other, relating to each other, talking about their experiences. My wife could not remember ever attending any event in Israel where Palestinians and Israeli Jews mingled freely, on the same footing. It gave her some hope for Israel.

As for Jisrael – well, I lost hope for that “imagined community” a long time ago.

From Magnes Zionist