I'd be lying if I said there haven't been moments that make me wonder what in the world I got myself into. I've seen some pretty ugly things in these parts, and not from the places or people I thought I would. I'd read about some of the stuff I've seen and experienced, but witnessing them always brings me back to the phrase, "Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore." Frankly, I sometimes think we're not even on the same planet anymore! Some folks are able to bring animus and acrimony to new heights. Said folks really need new hobbies.
I maintain that G-D is the best comic around. When I'm feeling like I've landed on Planet of the Apes, somehow, some thing or someone shows up to prove me wrong. After this week's "Get to the back, Rosa" experience, I found myself in a store whose clerk was playing, "Just One Shabbos," a song about Jewish unity at its best. Earlier this week, my husband and I went into a sporting good store in hot pursuit of an American-style football (we got the last one!) where the cashier welcomed us to Israel. A few weeks ago, while sitting on a bus that's usually crowded but emptied before I'm used to, the Ethiopian bus driver assured me that I was on the right bus and that I'd get more comfortable with the bus lines in time. Today, a phone company representative wished me an easy klita (absorption into Israeli society). Its funny, 'cause I don't ever remember the phone company in the States doing much more than telling me that 9AM-5PM really was a realistic time frame to wait for a tech. Often, no one seemed to care that real people with real phone problems can't just sit home and pander to the phone company's will-I-or-won't-I-show-up-today tactics. The techs were often rather pleasant, but none ever welcomed me to the 'hood.
I've seen a great many instances of what I call 'Jews behaving badly,' a sitcom idea I hope no one ever picks up. But I've been welcomed in the oddest ways and in the oddest places. I mean really, why did the bank clerk care that I use the Hebrew she could tell I was struggling with? She cared about my linguistic skills as well as where I put my money? Two of my sons encountered a public bus driver who wanted to know why they weren't speaking Hebrew, only to tell them that he's from New Jersey after learning they were right off the boat (er, plane). The cell phone company gal agreed, during what I can only imagine was a relatively painful conversation all the way around, that she'd go easy on us in Hebrew if we agreed to go easy on her in English. A rental car guy, after seeing our not-so-hidden disappointment about not being able to rent a car without our passports (Do you carry your passport everywhere? We don't!), drove Josh home so he could get our passports, and then drove him back so we could rent a car. When I was on an undeniably overcrowded bus, literally laying on a Charedi woman because there was no where else to go, I knew she had every right to tell me to get off. Instead, she told me that they really need to add more buses to the fleet during school dismissal time so that we don't have children bouncing off the interior like uniformed ping pong balls. I agreed with her, she told me its been like this forever, and we wished each other a good day. Israelis are very particular about having photographs taken in their stores (Really, I don't think I'm gonna start a war because I have a picture of your merchandise, but hey, its your store, so...), but when I asked a grocery store worker if I could take pictures of a table set for Rosh Hashanah (The Jewish New Year) to show friends in the States, he responded with the world's biggest "Betach (Absolutely)!!!" Even our ulpan teacher, whose job it is to shove as much Hebrew into our tired American heads as possible, has shared bits and pieces of her own immigration to Israel.
Honestly, I just gotta ask... What's with these people??? Why do they care so much? Why have they welcomed us so warmly? And why do they want *us* to teach *them* English? Perhaps, just perhaps, its because this is really how folks are supposed to act. At this moment in our lives, we are very strange strangers in a beyond-description strange land. A friend of ours said once that she believes the possibilities for evil are greater here because the realities of holiness are, too. I suppose its that "you can't hate till you love" or "you don't know what you've got till its gone" kind of thinking. I'm bowled over by the dichotomy in approaches and the full force with which both ways of being come at you here.
I crave consistency, which makes the whole move-out-of-your-literal-comfort-zone a wee bit difficult sometimes. But I'm learning new levels of comfort and that I'll need to employ them when new levels of discomfort rear their head. I'm not on an "Israel's perfect" kick, but I am giving myself permission to appreciate the good that is here, that is evident, and that doesn't require a search party or magnifying glass. I've been called naive, a dreamer, and unrealistic. Ironically, the folks that have used those terms have done so, I think, in the hopes of getting my feet to meet the pavement. I often say that I understand *how* things happen, but can't understand why they really do. I don't get how a people who've gone through every horrific social ill imaginable (and I know that there are other groups and societies and cultures who have as well), can so viciously turn on itself. I think fear of the unknown and worry about what'll happen next drive a lot of that venom. I think a lack of education, a lack of exploration, and the absence of critical thought intensifies those fears. None of these reasons are excuses, but I think they are very real forces to be reckoned with.
And yet, you have some of the most opinionated taxi drivers, who I'm convinced would make great politicians in this itty bitty plot of land, that will fearlessly tell you where its at while helping you unpack your groceries, utility company representatives who are glad you're here, and neighbors who often don't know what to do next to help you get adjusted and stay that way. I'm starting to think that the Israeli flag is only two colors as a metaphor for the country's divergent paths. And being Jews, I'm impressed we were even able to agree on which two colors!
I'm determined to do my fair share of making this work. And not just our aliyah, but being Jews in this wacky little place we call home. I think of the Kotel, the Western Wall, as the great equalizer. Everyone who stands there stands before G-D. You can agree, disagree, wear a skirt, slacks, have a keepah or not, and think whatever you want. But when you're at that Wall you're in the presence of G-D Himself. No one's bigger nor is anyone better, even if they think they are. Everyone stands as one in the presence of He who is One. Its the most subtle but undeniable way of putting us in our place. We all need to know where we stand within ourselves, our communities, and on this planet. Mordechai Ben David sings, "We’ll sing and dance to the sky, With our spirits so high, We’ll show them all it’s true, Let them come and join us too." May those who welcome, those who isolate, and those who don't even know who they are, join in all that is good. I'm determined to continue making that leap and hope that others join, because you know what? The water's nice and warm on this side of the world.
Just One Shabbos, song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cu7TR_VaPPk&feature=related
Just One Shabbos, lyrics: http://jewishmusiclyrics.blogspot.com/2007/05/just-one-shabbos.html