Wednesday, November 29, 2017


(photo credit: The Real Jerusalem Streets)

Life is full of bumps along the way. These may take the form of tragedies large and small, day-to-day inconveniences, and disappointments, too. In Israel, somehow these wrinkles that appear in the fabric of everyday living are larger than elsewhere.

And sometimes larger than life.

It may be the heat of the day, or the heat of the food, turned up high with exotic spices and peppers. It may even be the hot political climate that keeps us hopping, as if we are dancing on hot coals as one nation. The heat of the day, the food, the politics, leads to tempers simmering just below the surface, at times exploding.

There's the obstinate clerk who is determined to be unhelpful. The shopkeeper who ousts you from the premises when three consecutive clothing items decide not to fit you. The ministry that decides to close its gates as your number comes up. The person who jumps ahead of you in line at the supermarket—she only went to get a bag of milk—after you're finally next in line, after waiting 45 minutes to check out your items.

Will you let it get to you? How can you not?

And yet, if you lose it, they win.

It definitely seems worse here in Israel. In America, you get your stress served with a smile, with politeness. Here it's just full on rude.

Sometimes.

And sometimes not.

Because there's the other stuff. There's kindness. A bus driver will wait until an elderly person wends his slow way toward the bus stop and then on up the bus steps. Passengers stand for pregnant women and seniors on the bus, so that they might sit. A bus driver may even drive an elderly person all the way to his home instead of leaving him off at the designated bus stop, though technically, he can be fined for this "offense."

If your car breaks down on the road in the middle of nowhere, someone, a complete stranger, will stop to help you change your tire, charge your spent battery, or give you water for your sizzling radiator/overheated car.

The doctor who knows you can't afford the private fee for his services, insists you come in, "No charge."

Your favorite grill restaurant gives you a steak in a pita to go, and as he hands it to you, you might mention it's for your wife who just had a son, and the entire restaurant breaks out into Mazal Tovs and ululations (no charge for the steak). The same thing happens on the bus, when you bump into someone you know and mention you're on the way to the hospital to visit your wife and new baby. The entire bus full of people (who are not supposed to be listening) will congratulate you and clap you on the back.

Like you're one big family.

And with all these extremes, these ups and downs, the kindnesses, frustrations, and anger, there is the heart-stopping terror you feel when you hear or see many ambulances go by and you know that terror has struck someone's loved one: a mother, a grandfather, a beloved teacher, a tourist. Then, you need to know where your family members are in a hurry. The wait can be unbearable.

Terror can hit every other day, every day, or even several times a day. You live with fear, you live in a state of denial of that fear, doing the Stanislavski method, acting "as if", as if everything were okay, even when it is most emphatically not. If you're a performer, you perform. If your child is being bar mitzvahed, the bar mitzvah goes on. If you need to shop for groceries, you go, even if you might not come home with that sale-priced economy bag of laundry soap (or at all).

But sometimes you can get a break and just appreciate the good friends you have made that are like family, because your real family is thousands of miles away in the land you left to live here. 

Sometimes you can just appreciate the night sky with stars so close you could reach out and pluck one with your bare hand and hold it there, glowing in your palm, a holy relic from a holy night sky.

Sometimes you go outside and that smell you smell is the good, fertile earth, filled with the promise of growing things, lemons and tomatoes that taste of the sun, cucumbers so crunchy and fresh it's a sin to peel them. The earth is more immediate here. You want to take a bite out of it, take it into you, make it part of you, as you will someday be a part of it, when you are no longer sensible of the fact.

But it is a tough life here in Israel, no matter that we are too stubborn to leave and cling to the land with all our hearts.

Why do we do it then? What is the reason we stay here? It's this: no matter what happens here, you know your life will have had meaning just for having lived here, and if you should die? You died here for a reason.

Sometimes, in spite of everything, you know that all you have ever done here, gone through here, was all about arriving at a single moment: that shining moment when you know that what you did here, the roughness of life, mattered, because it brought you to this.

For every person, that moment is unique to one's personal universe. For this author? For me? It was that moment when my daughter got married under the stars of a Jerusalem night and I knew that my grandchildren would grow up Jewish in Jerusalem, dedicated to the study of God's holy Torah. The realization that somehow a boy with roots in Iraq, Gibraltar, Spain, and Jerusalem, had ended up with a girl with roots in Pittsburgh, Chicago, Lithuania, Poland, Germany, Ukraine, and yes, Jerusalem, too, to build a Bayit Neeman B'Yisrael, a faithful house in Israel.

It was these two young people following rituals as old as history, as old as Jacob and Leah and Rachel, rituals that varied little from country to country, wherever we wandered. It was the way he checked it was she, lowering the veil over her face with gentle, shaking hands. The way she then slipped off her golden bracelets commemorating that long-ago sin by our people in the desert. How they stood under a prayer shawl, a tallis, side by side; too shy to look at each other, sharing sips of wine from a goblet.

(photo credit: The Real Jerusalem Streets)

There they stood for several minutes, surrounded by four parents holding candles in fluted glass candle holders. Parents with wandering roots, a people come home to roost, come home to Jerusalem, where we belong, where our people belong. The beginning of a new home, a new family, Jewish children here in this holy city.

The way he slipped the ring onto her finger, that first touch. The way he vowed never to forget Jerusalem and stepped on a glass, the sound audible to all, eliciting cheers. 




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