The Opera in Yarkon Park / Bubble Israel at Its Best

The distance between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv was never greater than last night, when hordes of angry Haredim burned trash bins in Israel's official capital while thousands savored a free open-air Verdi concert by Milan's La Scala opera company in our real capital.

The protests by the ultra-Orthodox rioers against the arrest of one their own did not spoil the sweet illusion at Yarkon Park. The Tel Aviv bubble was at its best; in a special VIP section, the rich and famous enjoyed the opera sounds that filled the park. The listeners were put in a state of amnesia that allowed them to pretend to be longstanding La Scala connoisseurs.

The people at the park belonged to Postcard Israel. Ashkenazi, well-to-do, mature and cultured. Many were Russian speakers. Many relied on their walking canes.

The privileged few were bused to the VIP section. Long gone are the days when such events did not have such a revolting section. Mayor Ron Huldai explained to me that this was a way to pump some extra money into the event.

But the image of old ladies sitting on the grass near the iron-fence partition between the privileged section and the area for the lowly commoners spoke louder. Culture Minister Limor Livnat arrived with an entourage of bodyguards. What calamity would befall us should the culture minister appear for once without her brawny escorts whispering into their walkie-talkies?

At the entrance, security guards checked people's bags and confiscated the folding chairs they had brought from home. This was no easy task, since getting Israelis to give up their seats is known to be a Herculean task. But the Border Police were adamant.

"Listen, my friend, I can't let you in with the chair because then what do I tell the others?" one officer said, appealing to his listener's sense of communal fairness. "You've got your chair but I've got my officers," he told one chair-wielding family boasting a South African accent. "The paper didn't say that you can't bring your own chair," the father said in vain. Eventually he wanted to know who he should complain to. "You can complain to the district commander," the officer said. A nearby sign read "lost children can be found here."

And the musicians, minutes before the opera began, could be seen nibbling East European sweet rolls - rogalach - behind the curtain. Their impressions of this now Israeli delicacy would be interesting to hear.

The crowd inside the compound made for an enjoyable sight: Opera-lovers standing in line to the bathroom without pushing ahead. Their presence there in their tens of thousands on the lawn prepared by Huldai - an excellent mayor who yesterday collected a few additional merits - was a sight for sore eyes.

But outside, in the parking lot, an Israeli driver tried to park his car in a spot reserved for the disabled. He explained it was because he was friends with the mayor. And thus Israel returned to being Israel.