This Shabbat, I found myself the bearer of big news – not personal news, but big international news.
About 45 minutes after sundown, (now former) Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak resigned, and Shabbat observers all over Israel continued their evenings completely unaware. I, on the other hand, was unashamedly sitting on Gmail and getting ready to leave for a dinner at Beit Jewlicious, when I received an instant message from a friend of mine with a link to Aljazeera.net.
Moments later, I saw that the Egyptian leader had finally caved to the pressure of his people and officially surrendered his authority. Checking the Israeli sites briefly, I saw no commentary or news reports as of yet, and Al-Jazeera seemed to be the only English news source relaying Suleiman’s announcement, that Mubarak was handing over control to the Supreme Council of the army.
On my way over to the dinner, I thought about how for the next 24 hours, a huge percentage of the entire nation would have absolutely no idea that the country’s next-door-neighbor no longer had a leader – unless, of course, they had heretics like me arriving at their Shabbat meals.
The first words out of my mouth as I entered Beit Jewlicious – or, more commonly known as the apartment of Jewlicious.com founder David Abitbol – were the limited news bits available about the resignation.
In David’s living room, jaws dropped in silence, followed by some comments of disbelief. After all, just the night before, Mubarak had defied everyone’s expectations and delivered a speech where he refused to step down, to the dismay of the protestors still gathered in Tahrir square. I remember the surprise that ran through the night desk the prior evening – was he really still holding on?
But once he did hold on, I think that most people in Israel at least expected his claims to last for more than a day.
Hence the shock at the Shabbat dinner that evening.
"I had gotten myself prepared for this," one person said. "But I didn’t think it would happen so soon."
She, of course, was referring to the potential balagan that would overtake Cairo leadership, and its subsequent effect on Israel. Everyone at the dinner agreed, naturally, that the Egyptian people deserve a much more democratic, progressive governance than the three-decade dictatorship that was Mubarak’s rein. However, the biggest fear among Israelis is that while a gaping hole exists in our neighbor’s leadership, an authority even worse – like the Ayatollah of Iran in 1979 or Maximilien Robespierre during the early French Revolution, who slipped into power after Louis XVI’s execution – could rise in the chaos. Both Israel and Egypt cannot afford for something like this to occur, for an extremist leader who is bent on destroying the peace treaty to take over and shake the relative stability of our borders.
Not knowing quite what to do with the information I had just brought over to Shabbat dinner, though, someone broke the ice: "Wait, so you mean now I have to wait 24 hours to find out what happens next?! Why did he have to do this on Shabbat!"
“Well, he must be anti-Semitic!” another person suggested, bringing us all to a state of laughter for a moment, rather than one of fear and confusion.
I guess there’s no way to predict what will happen next, but that little bit of laughter to me is a symbol of the unrivaled Israeli resilience and fortitude that is absolutely necessary to survive amidst such unstable and always potentially hostile environs. All we can do is hope for the best.
But what I do know for sure is, I will unfortunately not be taking that trip to the Giza pyramids with my parents in March.