In case you haven’t been reading the news (don’t worry if that’s the case- I don’t read it either), the Middle East is heating up this summer, and I’m not just talking about the day it was 103 degrees on the heat index last week.
There are tensions on the Syria-Israel border (in addition to the whole civil war there). There are also tensions on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem- the place where the Jewish temples of old stood and where the Al-Aqsa Mosque currently stands atop the Western Wall. If you don’t know what those are- don’t worry. The point is they’re all Jewish and Islamic holy sites. Two Israeli Druze policemen were killed by Palestinian terrorists on the Temple Mount and other Palestinian terrorists murdered a family having Shabbat dinner in the West Bank. Meanwhile, Palestinians are protesting the addition of metal detectors on the site of the first terrorist attack. I honestly haven’t read enough to know the details, but needless to say, there are probably provocative politicians on all sides who’d like to take advantage of this moment to escalate things.
So the only thing that really matters from that whole paragraph for the purpose of this blog is: shit is intense here. I am living in a powder keg. A powder keg I love and is full of beauty. And also lots of problems. Good thing I found a new friend in my building today who was hula hooping outside at 3 in the afternoon to hip hop music, because I gladly joined him for a little break from the heaviness.
In the midst of this chaos, there is also hope and it’s the kind of good stuff you will never, and I repeat never, see in any newspaper- not in Israel and most certainly not abroad. The thing you have to experience here.
The other day, I had a cab driver named Samir. Samir is a clearly Arab name so as I like to do, I spoke with him in Arabic. Turns out he’s Bedouin and from Haifa, which is quite interesting because most Bedouin live in the Negev Desert down south, a testament to their nomadic desert roots. Turns out, he’s married to a Kavkazi Jewish woman who converted to Islam in order for them to be married. In Israel, all marriage is through religious channels, so if you want an interfaith marriage, you have to go to Cyprus to get a civil marriage and come back. We’ll save more details for a future blog. He and his wife are raising their kids Muslim but they speak Hebrew at home and are sending their kids to a Jewish school (they could have opted for an Arabic-language school instead). In addition, the kids are currently quadrilingual and are in elementary school. They speak Hebrew, Arabic, Kavkazi (a Jewish language related to Persian), and Azerbaijani. They will also learn English in school, making them quintilingual by middle school.
We talked about the immense cultural and religious diversity his children will experience. He said he wants them to know about Judaism and Islam and other cultures and religions. I told him how in the U.S., people of all different backgrounds study, play, and grow up together. It was an amazing, complex, and beautiful bit of gray space in a land where all too often things seem black and white.
I’d like to encourage you to spend a little less time on NewYorkTimes.com or Haaretz and a little more time getting to know real people. People in your neighborhood, people around the world. If you have the chance to come here (or already live here), let’s explore together. If you’re in another city, get to know your neighbors. It is good to be well-read and it is also not the only way to be well-informed. Step outside your comfort zone, embrace your humanity, and we’ll see our way out of this crisis. Or at least get a well-deserved break in an oasis of peace. One conversation at a time.