Today, my day started with terrorism and ending with me and some Mizrachim singing Umm Kulthum.
I’m in the (very stressful) process of finding an apartment in Tel Aviv. I’ve never had such a difficult time finding a place to live in any other city. The loosely-regulated rental market here is super competitive with sketchy offers abounding. I’ll find something, it’s just exhausting.
In need of a break, I did something most Tel Avivim would not do when in need of relaxation, and went to Jerusalem.
Having gotten a bit turned around, instead of taking a bus from the Central Bus Station, I actually ended up taking a bus to Kfar Chabad and then a second bus to Jerusalem. I could detour here and tell you about the adventures of making a highly-improvised bathroom stop between bus rides, but I’ll save that for one-on-one conversations 😉 Israel constantly challenges your definitions of “gross”.
I hopped on the second bus, which incidentally took us partially through the West Bank/Samaria.
This particular route was gorgeous. Unlike the main bus lines to Jerusalem, this was totally rural with no traffic whatsoever. The scenes were idyllic.
I felt a bit nervous going through this area today as there was a terrorist attack this morning. Three young men – an Ethiopian Jew, one (I believe) Mizrachi Jew, and one Israeli-Arab – were ruthlessly murdered as they did their job providing security for the community of Har Hadar. Solomon, Yossef, and Or – may their memory be for a blessing. I’m praying for their families. And I was so sad this morning I was frankly at a loss for words- and I still am.
I almost didn’t go to Jerusalem, but in the end- fuck terrorism. There’s only so much you can control in life and after taking reasonable precautions, I just want to live my life. Just like these young people would’ve liked to.
Incidentally, we passed by a sign to Har Hadar on the way to Jerusalem. It’s that small of a country.
I get to Jerusalem, a bit frazzled, and hop off the bus. To my right is a sign with bunch of Hasidic posters, one of which was in Yiddish. I approached two twenty-something Hasidim and asked in Yiddish for them to explain one of the signs. Turns out, there is a Yiddish-language theater production being broadcast out of Brooklyn into movie-style screens in Jerusalem and Bnei Brak, which they invited me to.
The two young men were Belz Hasidim and for an hour and a half, we spoke in a mixture of Yiddish, Hebrew, and English. One, Dovid, was born in London and the other, Yankev, grew up in Montreal, another one of my favorite cities. Yankev was a bit shy, though we spoke a little French together since he learned some in Montreal (and so did I!). Dovid was a real shmoozer and a sweet guy. He told me all about yeshiva and how he lamented the lack of Kosher steak in Jerusalem. He made a point of telling me he doesn’t go to political demonstrations, which reminded me of how I often felt in America having to show I wasn’t one of “those” people in my minority group. We talked about our favorite Jewish texts. They love the halachos of Shabbes and I shared with them my favorite Jewish teaching – which, much to my surprise, they didn’t know. In fact, they asked me to translate it for them into Yiddish, which remarkably I did!
Before leaving, as some people are wont to do here, Dovid shared with me a little bit of prejudice. He told me, in light of today’s attack, that Arabs aren’t very bright. I of course challenged him on this and his response, while bigoted, was quintessentially Jewish and kind of funny: “The Arabs aren’t very good at terrorism. Jews don’t do terrorist attacks but if we did, we’d be better at it.” So basically, in a phrase that would make the alt-Right twist and squirm and vomit, he said that Jews would make better terrorists than Arabs. As the father in My Big Greek Wedding would say “the Greeks invented everything.” I couldn’t help but chuckle.
I headed towards the Old City as two Arab women stopped me. They asked me in Arabic for directions (how cool is that??) – and surprisingly, thanks to my Arabic and the glory of modern transit apps, I helped them find their way! In fact, I was headed in the same direction.
We hopped on the train and I froze. I had walked with them 10 minutes speaking in Arabic but when I got on the train, I was scared to keep talking. I looked around, and thinking about today’s terrorist attack, I was worried how people might react. There are legitimate reasons I felt that way, as you can read about here.
As I got off the train, I walked towards the Old City. I saw an Arab man selling sunglasses. I approached him and I said I didn’t need any glasses, but I told him he was making me happy so I wanted to give him a gift and handed him some money. He invited me to sit with him. We spoke in Arabic (I felt more comfortable out in the open air instead of cramped public transit where, frankly, attacks are more likely so I can understand people’s fear). Turns out he’s from Hebron in the West Bank/Samaria. He comes to work in Jerusalem each day. He doesn’t know any English, so I taught him some English words to help with his marketing. The poor guy is 60, 70 years old with 10 kids and a two-hour commute each way. I can’t imagine what today’s terror attack is going to do to his livelihood as transit will slow and work permits may be frozen. I suppose the terrorist wasn’t thinking of his fellow Palestinians who need to make a living when he shot three people.
The man gave me a big smile and a warm handshake as I headed off to meet my friend Sarah, a Modern Orthodox/Traditional Jew from America. We ate Kosher pizza and then wandered through the Armenian Quarter, where I had never been. I love Armenians. When I was in high school, a friend gave me an Armenian CD which I still have on my computer. Armenians are so, so similar to Jews. They are a Diaspora community that survived a genocide and manages to preserve their language and religion. And they’re pretty cute!
We talked with several Armenian men about their visits to the homeland, their life in Jerusalem, the Armenian Church (they had strong opinions- and not positive ones!), and the Armenian-language schools down the street. I even got to hear their Armenian-accented Arabic! One man votes Meretz and his wife votes Likud. I went to an Armenian restaurant and got a fascinating dessert made out of crushed grapes and walnuts with a string inside. And, because this is how I roll, I got info on some Armenian tutors- because at some point, that would be fun.
On my bus back to Tel Aviv, I befriended a handsome American tourist named Nicolai. Non-Jewish and from Wisconsin, we talked the entire hour-long trip about Israel, Judaism, America, Bernie Sanders (we’re fans), and so much more. A truly open-minded fellow- which is not something to take for granted. Too many people arrive to Israel with preconceived notions of what it is and isn’t. He was pretty much an open book.
His phone didn’t have internet, so I walked him 20 minutes to his bus stop and got him on his way home. Because that’s what we do in Israel- we go out of our way to help others. I find the generosity that surrounds me here encourages me to be even kinder to people.
I hopped in a monit sherut cab and headed home. What a day! Hasidim, Modern Orthodox, Arab-Israelis, Palestinians, tourists, Reform Jews (that’s me!). What else was missing?
As our Russian driver helped us wind through (largely) secular Tel Aviv, two Mizrachi guys up front started singing. Koby Peretz, Sarit Hadad, Shimon Buskila- you name it. Then, to their surprise, I made a request.
“Inta omri,” I said.
Pleasantly surprised that an Ashkenazi would request an Egyptian classic, they started to sing. And to their delight- I joined in.
On a day when a deranged man tried to break the place I call home, I started the day with his hatred and I ended it by singing with Jews in Arabic.
And in-between, I hung out with every sector of Israeli society.
Want to write public policy papers about how to solve the Middle East conflict? Go for it- maybe they could help. Honestly, I don’t know.
What I do know is I probably won’t have time for your conference. Because I’m going to be speaking Yiddish with Hasidim, training a Palestinian in marketing, and singing Mizrachi music in a cab. I’ll be getting to know my neighbors. Just like Solomon, Yossef, and Or would’ve wanted.