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From ploughshares to microphones for Jerusalem Day parade

by michael May 26 2008
HolidaysFor the kidsMunicipal newsThings to do

Despite 41's status as one of those unexciting prime numbers, Jerusalem is going beyond all-out to celebrate Jerusalem Day (Yom Yerushalayim) this year over the course of the first four days in June. If you thought last year's 40th anniversary parade approached a blue-and-white Mardi Gras at times, you ain't seen nothing yet - and by "nothing," Jerusalemite means "the 12-foot-tall, mildly-disappointed-looking wheeled head of David Ben-Gurion." This year, nationalist-religious pride, socialist-idealist nostalgia and monsters of pop are coming together for a special June 3 party.

Ben Gurion gets a nose job.
The Gurion Mk. 1, planned successor to the Merkava tank

Once a holiday celebrated primarily by members of the nationalist-religious camp, Jerusalem Day has become an increasingly secularized display of Israeli pride in recent years, entering the list of dates used as excuses to stage cultural events and throw parties - nothing wrong with that. Yet on another level, Jerusalem Day celebrations have for a long time had little to do with theology, with socialist throwback-themed floats snaking their way through the city's streets in an annual parade, this year scheduled to take place on the day after Jerusalem Day.

The floats, built and manned by the various Israeli agricultural unions, are informed by the sort of heroic realism that the Bezalel school used to trade in: concrete representations of square-jawed peasants glorying in freshly tilled soil and squinting stoically off into the bright future of proletarian perfection. Just like all the propaganda posters back in the Old Country.

A very socialist float.
These plaster figures built this country

The style and the sentiment hearken back to the heady early days of Zionism, dominated by the efforts of a group of Westernized intellectuals, the Zionist thinkers, to turn a meek and scattered nation into strapping farmers. Israeli socialism is still in the process of being dismantled by the combined action of tempting Western consumerism and floods of immigrants who tended to have little interest in romantic European notions of post-Enlightenment secularist redemptive agriculture.

The embrace of Western capitalist values may have disappointed the Zionist old guard, but it also allowed for the existence of, say, people like Subliminal, who's performing at the Teddy Stadium at the end of the parade. Socialism may produce grain and attractively-rendered propaganda, but it doesn't produce dudes in fashionable urbanwear with bling Stars of David and their hat brims cocked just so, rapping to squealing teens about the historical claim of the Jewish people to Israel. New Jew indeed.

Hip hop artist Subliminal
Subliminal suspects that you are not sufficiently enthusiastic about Jerusalem Day

The gala concert at Teddy doesn't stop at Subliminal and his hats, though; other guests include pop songbird Shiri Maimon, sensitive acoustic singer-songwriter Kobi Aflalo, a dance troupe and President Shimon Peres. And a whole lot of other political bigwigs.

The parade route wends its way from Independence Park to the Teddy Stadium in Malcha, beginning at 17:30 and arriving at the stadium around 19:30. In addition to the giant busts of prominent Israelis, the parade will feature antique agricultural implements used back in the kibbutz glory days, thirty historic tractors (historic tractors!), marching bands and an estimated 30,000 enthused marchers. Don't miss it, or David Ben-Gurion's head will roll off and find you.

Photos of the Jerusalem Day floats (top, middle) courtesy of the Municipality of Jerusalem's spokesman's office; Submilinal courtesy Tact Records.

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