While I was a young student at the yeshiva of Kfar Chassidim, a 45 minute bus ride from the Haifa railway station, back in the 60s, Lebanon played an important role in the most cherished of all student pranks.
Pranks for me carried a high price at this famed yeshiva because the elder eminence at the academy was my great uncle. That more was expected of me inhibited me in undesirable ways. Nonetheless, I pranked away with the best of my fellow students. The most outrageous of pranks were generally executed only by those students whose academic performance provided them with adequate cover against severe penalty. In my case of course, family connection served the same purpose.
Of all our pranks, none was more taboo than illegally sneaking over the border, not too far north of our school, into Lebanon.
The idea was to hike to the nearest road and hitch a ride into Beirut. It was considered good form to take along a fellow student who spoke French or Arabic.
Beirut deserved its reputation as the Switzerland of the Mediterranean. It was an efficient, cosmopolitan city populated by well dressed people who seemed to work hard and play hard. During the day there appeared to be a bank on every corner, while at night, the banks subsided into obscurity and now there appeared to be a glittery night-club on every corner. The beaches and cafes were delightful and the people friendly. Oh! Did I forget to mention that the dominant influence in Beirut in those days, was Christian and not Islamic?
I am not the only one who forgot. Apparently most of the media either suffers from amnesia or considers it impolitic to mention that while Christianity dominated Lebanese society, the place functioned. And it functioned well. It was actually a wonderful place to visit.
When Islam began to flex its muscles and Lebanon basically allowed the PLO (which had been expelled from Jordan) to set up shop in 1971, things began to go downhill. Barbarism reasserted itself.
Evident even to surreptitious yeshiva students, the decline was painful to watch. Bikinis gave way to burkhas, haute couture gave way to rags, street cafe patrons vanished before roving street gangs, and sparkling nightlife quickly retreated before a flood of sewage in the streets. During my student years, Christian civilization ended in Beirut and the era of Islam began to bring destruction just as surely as it did thirteen centuries ago.
How did we students prove our illicit escapade? The preferred evidence was to purchase and bring back an item of stylish clothing with the Beirut department store label still intact. To us students, there was never any doubt that Christianity created and maintained civilization in Lebanon just as Judaism did the same in Israel.
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