Ashdod anti-Shabbat demonstrations, the inside story

The lack of respect shown by those who do not wish to keep this one of the Ten Commandments is out of place in Ashdod, where the numbers prop up the power of the Mayor and his team.

Leonie Ben-Simon

OpEds Running for shelter in Ashdod
Running for shelter in Ashdod

Ashdod, our fifth largest city is a microcosm of the future of Israel.  

The loud kerfuffle about shops being open on Shabbat is a carbon copy of the media exposure that has until now been somewhat successful in swaying a whole population to believe that this is what the majority wants.

However it is worth a deeper look at the constitution of the population of Ashdod together with Ashdod Mayor’s Yehiel Lasri’s hard line in insisting that Ashdod be a shopping free precinct on Shabbat.

Ashdod is a port city that rose out of the sands from nothing, beginning in the nineteen fifties.  Within ten years about a hundred thousand Jews from Morocco with their traditional Judaism had poured in, together with a sprinkling of olim from everywhere.  Shabbat was quiet with no public transport and few cars on the roads. Hardly any olim had cars, shops closed and the day of rest remained so.

The demographics of the citizens of Ashdod was similar to those of the peripheral (outlying) towns with a very high birth-rate.  The only difference in  comparison with other towns was that Ashdod became a huge city, now complete with a fully-fledged hospital and a university on the drawing board. That generation remained Shabbat observant, their children kept the birth-rate high, albeit not as high as their parents, but higher than that of the other big cities.  Despite the demands of businesses such as the gym in the large hotel insisting that their employees work on Shabbat or lose their jobs, generally speaking Ashdod residents value the Shabbat and want it to be work-free so that they can enjoy the day with their families.

The Russian Aliyah changed everything.  Ashdod welcomed large numbers of olim, whose Jewish identity the communists had spent generations wiping out. They were housed and found jobs, being hardworking and intent on integrating into Israeli life.  But incidents such as non-kosher butcher shops having their windows smashed in, and local laws forbidding barbeques along the beach (both on Shabbat and because some of the meat was non-kosher) made it crystal clear that the status quo of a Jewish city was to remain.

The third group to move to Ashdod were the ultra-orthodox who had been priced out of housing in the major cities.  They mainly live in the older buildings originally built in the nineteen-fifties and sixties.  Their area is a no-go zone on Shabbat.  Drive into their streets at your peril.  What is interesting is that the birth-rate of this group is similar to that of Yehudah and Shomron.  This sector does not watch TV and is not fazed by demonstrations in front of the city’s offices, nor by a convoy of those wanting shops open on Shabbat.

The latest olim are the French.  Mostly Shabbat observant from Moroccan, Algerian and Tunisian backgrounds, they came to Israel to belong to a Jewish state, and do not support the demonstrators.

Israelis from the large cities have moved to Ashdod for the quality of life, the pristine beaches, the good restaurants and the total lack of traffic congestion because Ashdod is the first large city in Israel planned for vehicular traffic.  Most of these are not observant.

The lack of respect shown by those who do not wish to keep this one of the Ten Commandments is out of place in Ashdod, where the numbers prop up the power of the Mayor and his team.  People power in a democracy is what is going to count in the decision-making future of whether Israel is going to be a little America or a Jewish state.  If the numbers in Ashdod are any indication, the noise made by the demonstrators will fade into the background.   The city of Kiryat Gat is a smaller copy of Ashdod, with nary a coffee shop open on Shabbat, then there is Netivot and many more.  None of these cities are represented in the media, but do form a significant percentage of the population.

Ashdod is Israel of the future.  With the demographic decline of Tel Aviv, with the waning influence of the leftist media and with the numbers game ensuring that Israel will remain a truly Jewish State, the noise-makers trying to cancel out Shabbat as a day of rest will have to face reality.

Hopefully the move to keep Shabbat in Ashdod will only be the beginning.

Postscript:  The shopping centre in question, the Big Fashion Complex, is so quiet during the week that you could almost shoot a cannon through it. Being out of town adjacent to the railway station it will probably need a doubling of the city’s population to make it viable.  Its shops are mostly duplicated in town and being open-air,it cannot compete with closed air-conditioned centres.  Their problem will not be solved by Shabbat trading because the owners of the city’s shops are mostly Shabbat observant, and will not allow their competition to encroach on their sales.