Jerusalem – Israel breathed a collective sigh of relief this week.
In the days before Yom Kippur on Saturday and the start of Sukkot on Wednesday night, between concern over a possible with Syria and the announcement of a tentative deal brokered by the United States and Russia, Israelis turned from thoughts of missile attacks to attention to the last of this month’s series of Jewish holidays.
The change was visible on the streets of the capital: citizens who had queued up in recent weeks for gas masks and other supplies with which to stock sealed rooms against a Syrian poison gas attack, lined up to buy sukkah suuplies.
Residents reported that traffic picked up early this week, in the wake of both Yom Kippur and the apparent lessening of regional tensions. Throughout the city, sukkah huts, mostly modest wooden ones, were visible on sidewalks and balconies, back yards and other available spaces.
“Business as usual,” said Jonathan Spyer, a policy analyst at the IDC Herzliya educational center.
“There are lots more people out” buying holiday goods, said Rafael, a cab driver and Jerusalem native.
The change was also visible on the front page of the Jerusalem Post. Headlines about was and antidotes for chemical attacks, which had dominated the news for the last month, on Monday shared space with stories about Israel and the Palestinian Authority resuming agricultural cooperation after a 13-year hiatus, about an Interior Ministry decision to recognize two men as a child’s biological father, about a rise in mortgage costs. And a picture of shopping for the Sukkot Four Species in Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda market. “It was the same in every Israeli paper,” said one Jerusalem official, speaking on condition of anonymity, who regularly monitors the national press.
This week, no one was getting gas masks.
A sense of normalcy –with the ever-present threat of renewed belligerence from Syria if the US-Russis deal for the elimination of Syrian weapons fails – appeared to return to the country.
And, many Jerusalmites said, there was no wide sense of panic in the public, despite pictures in the American media of people getting gas masks.
“No one talked about it,” said Tova Saul, an Old City tour guide.
Spyer, and other residents of Jerusalem, said the level of worry over the danger posed by Syria’s purported store of poison gas did not approach that of early 1991, when Iraq, which claimed to have similar non-conventional weapons, fired 39 Scud missiles at Israel, none of them carrying poison gas. “People are used to crisis.”
He said the Jerusalemites, the festive atmosphere in the city this week was caused more by yom tov than by US diplomacy.
Spyer said he felt little enthusiasm in his circle of secular friends for the efforts of President Omama and Secretary of State John Kerry, which ranged from an initial pledge of action against Syria, to the outreach to Congress for support of military action, to the US-Russia deal that many Israelis think has little chance of succeeding.
“They are skeptical of the nature of the deal,” he said.
Shulamis Frankel, a secretary for the Taazmuot family clinic who lives in a haredi neighborhood in the northwest corner of the city, said she can gauge the pulse of the nation by looking out he windows.
Looking north, to a road that winds from Tel Aviv, she saw fewer people driving on Yom Kippur than in past years. She interpreted that as a sign that some secular Israelis, who otherwise might not heed the prohibition against driving on the holiest day of the year, paid special attention to their spiritual life in recent days.
And looking south, to her neighbors who were putting up sukkahs this week, she saw more enthusiasm among non-Orthodox residents of her Romema neighborhood – also a spiritual recognition of the possible danger that traditionally unified Israeli of all religious stripes.
The cause, she said, “was the impending war.”