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May 11, 2006

Wandering Jew - Blue ‘Oranges’

http://www.jewishjournal.com/wandering_jew/article/wandering_jew_blue_oranges_20060512

Last year at the Israel Independence Day Festival in Woodley Park, anti-disengagement activist Shifra Hastings of Los Angeles was clad all over in orange, the color of protest, right down to her painted fingernails. She tirelessly handed out free orange ribbons, bracelets and T-shirts -- even orange soda -- to passersby at her booth, speaking to them about the dangers of Israel's planned, unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria.

Many festivalgoers were more than glad to take orange ribbons and free orange T-shirts, until there were unmistakable ripples of orange among the sea of people. She believed that she was helping to turn the tide; that people at the festival were influenced by her viewpoints, and that their responsiveness was more than just a desire for free giveaways. She was certain that the disengagement would never actualize.

This year Hastings has no booth. The disengagement happened on schedule in August. Now there's an expectation of another "disengagement," sometimes referred to as "convergence," this time from portions of Judea and Samaria. But while Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has made this plan an integral part of his platform, nothing official has been announced, and the protest fervor here and in Israel has not yet fully recharged.

This year for the festival, Hastings is wearing three orange bracelets. She also found some orange ribbons on a "caution" sign, which she removed and tied to her purse. She wouldn't have attended this year at all if not for some friends she wants to see.

"I feel different than I did a year ago. [Then] I felt hopeful," says Hastings on the lawn at Woodley Park. "I really didn't believe it would happen."

Hastings' anger is palpable: "The bottom line is that there are two things: There is the land of Israel and government of Israel. The government is garbage that is rotting and festering and needs to be thrown out. I love the land with all my soul."

This year, one is hard-pressed to find festivalgoers wearing orange T-shirts and orange ribbons. It's almost as if the disengagement has been forgotten, and Southland Jews and Israelis are celebrating Israel Independence Day as they always have. There is no booth officially representing disengagement evacuees or pro-settler causes, and speeches hardly mention the trauma experienced by evacuees and those in threatened Jewish settlements.

Among festivalgoers who wear orange, and there are a few sprinkled about, it is difficult to tell without asking whether the color was symbolic.

This first postdisengagement Independence Day is filled with mixed emotion among "orange" enthusiasts. Many ponder their relationship to the State of Israel and the unquestioned support they once felt. Many feel that by enforcing a policy of removing Israelis from their homes, destroying their communities and giving over land to a people compromised by terror, the Israeli government has abandoned its mandate to safeguard Jewish communities and the lives of Israeli citizens.

"This year, Yom Ha'Atzmaut is difficult to celebrate fully in the heart, as well as in action," says Daryl Temkin, recently appointed director of the West Coast branch of the Zionist Organization of America, whose organization is staffing a booth at the festival. Last summer, Temkin, as a private citizen, protested against the disengagement and organized an airlift of goods to assist evacuees after the withdrawal. "Yom Ha'atzmaut has been a contemplative time to focus on what Israel's future is going to be, given the conditions of the changing face of Israel politics and Israel security."

Jon Hambourger, founder of the now defunct savegushkatif.org, a grass-roots protest movement with adherents across the United States and Canada, is more forgiving toward the Israeli government but no less worried about the future.

"We can't afford to be pessimistic," he says. "It's a battle every day not to be cynical, but unlike a lot of other 'crazy' right-wingers, I don't see conspiracy theories. I believe everyone is acting in their [perceived] best interest for Israel. I don't see anything evil about the government."

Israel Independence Day hits a sour note with him because he questions how independently Israel acts.

"We see over and over again, irrespective of the administration, that when push came to shove, it's always a matter of how a policy will play out in London or Washington. That has always been a litmus test," he says.

Aliza Wells, a Los Angeles resident who took part in the protests in Gaza, retains a core of optimism, despite her disgust with the government: "I still believe that the state can be salvaged and turned into a real democracy. It's an elected dictatorship now."

She attends the Woodley Park Festival feeling "detached" from the celebratory scene but more committed than ever to move to Israel.

"I'm making aliyah because of what happened," she says. "We need more Jews who care about Israel living there -- who understand that if you want to live in another country, then you can live in another country. But if you live there, then know that it's going to be Jewish."

She isn't too impressed with the festival, which seems to her more "secular" than last year's, a reflection of the secular turn she believes the State of Israel has taken.

Joshua Spiegelman is among the festivalgoers wearing an orange ribbon in uncompromised celebration of Israel's birthday. He defends the State of Israel, saying that although he believes the government is misguided, the state remains profoundly important to securing a strong Jewish future.

"My heart is very touched to be here," he says. "Where else can American Jews be around thousands of Israelis and still feel at home? It's a moving experience to be around so many Israelis and to see people relaxing, enjoying themselves, and to know that everyone is here for Yom Ha'atzmaut."

He adds: "I wish I saw more orange."

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