Some opposition protesters came by subway, nervously moving out into the streets and hiding green ribbons in their pockets as they walked past phalanxes of helmeted riot police and hard-line pro-government Basiji militiamen.
They chanted quietly at first, nervous among the many government supporters headed toward Friday prayers, where the sermon was delivered by an acolyte of Ahmadinejad after the relatively moderate Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani was barred from speaking.
Eventually, their murmurs gave way to boisterous choruses, as they realized that they were among thousands of protesters.
The story goes on to report that while the government spokesmen attempted to incite the crowd into chanting anti-Israel slogans, the protesters were more interested in chanting slogans of support for their opposition candidate Mousavi. One gentleman in the crowd is quoted as saying, "We are unable to make ends meet as the prices go up and up. Who cares about Israel? 'Down with Israel' does not make jobs for our youths or grow our money."
I read this hopeful story just before heading to temple Saturday morning for Rosh Hashanah services. The opening prayer, Ma Tovu (the first line of which is the title of this post, which translates as "How goodly are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel!"), held striking parallels this year with events in Iran, and made me realize that many things have not changed in the Middle East for thousands of years. This prayer comes from a story in the Book of Numbers in which the King of Moab hires Balaam to curse the Israelites in the hope that this curse will help him defeat his enemies. Balaam is instead so struck by the beauty of the Israelites' encampment that he blesses them instead, forming the basis for the prayer that continues to be read to this day.
It would be too much to expect that the crowd in Tehran that Ahmadinejad hoped to whip up into a frenzy of cursing Israel would instead decide to bless Israel, but it is encouraging that much of the crowd was a lot less interested in blaming Israel for Iran's problems, and instead wants to put the blame where it belongs.
(photo from New York Times)