In a horrific terrorist attack in New York, 8 people were killed and at least another dozen were wounded. I found out about the attack while perusing Facebook in an ice cream parlor in Yafo. Everyone around me was laughing and having a good time and I just froze and started checking in on all my friends. My emotions welled up as I saw 37 friends were marked safe. Thank God. And then I was on the verge of tears as I noticed that 175 friends of mine had not yet confirmed their status. I even noticed some people had had friends ask them if they were safe and had not responded yet.
I then started messaging friends frantically, trying to find out if they were OK. This is the strange and challenging part of being a dual citizen- I’m feeling the pain of my friends in America while I’m sitting at a gelato shop and people are giggling. Obviously not at what happened, but they just don’t know what’s going on. It’s somewhat of a dual life.
I finally found out a close friend was safe- but her husband works very close to the attack. Thank God he survived, but it’s scary to think about. Unfortunately for Israelis, this isn’t a new concept, although it’s one Israeli experience I hope to never have to suffer.
As I write this blog, it’s still Halloween in America. Halloween in Israel is weird- it’s almost non-existent. Some of the things I love about the holiday, like picking pumpkins, hayrides, pumpkin pie, candy corn, seeing cute kids in costume, or going to a friend’s party- they just don’t happen that much here. It’s not part of the culture. Understandable, but I still miss it. It’s doubly hard because one of my very toxic relatives has a birthday on Halloween so it brings up all sorts of mixed emotions.
Tonight, I didn’t expect a scary Halloween, but I got one. Just like the Halloweens with my toxic relatives and just like all too many days that have scarred people in the Land of Israel.
Some people ask me how I get through the tough times, through the excruciating challenges that I face as an oleh chadash, as a new Israeli citizen. You know how? Everyday miracles.
Before I heard about the attack, I was talking with an adorable 17-year-old named Tony who worked at the ice cream shop. He really likes American rap, so I suggested some artists (he had never heard of Common!). We talk about how he wants to move to Canada or maybe go to college in Germany to become an engineer. When it came up that I’m gay, his co-worker joked that he’s a homophobe or a closet-case (this is the humor here- this is not derogatory). He of course denied it and said he likes everyone. He even was a little self-conscious and asked me if he looked like a homophobe. Of course I told him he doesn’t (is there a way to look homophobic?), and he smiled. What a nice young Jewish boy with a goldene neshamah- a beautiful soul.
Wrong. Tony is Arab. And like not a small number of Arabs here, if you called him David Goldstein you’d think he’s an American Jew. Once he shared that he was Arab, I switched from Hebrew to Arabic and we kept talking. About music, travel, culture, you name it. After every customer he served, he’d come back and keep talking to me.
After I found out about the attack, I was visibly upset. I didn’t say anything because I was too busy checking in on my friends. But eventually I needed to go home and sit in a quiet place where I could call people.
Before leaving, I wanted to tell Tony why I had to go. Many Arabs here mix Hebrew into their Arabic. The Hebrew word for terrorist attack is “pigua”, and it would not be strange for an Arab to speak in Arabic but simply use a Hebrew word in the middle of a sentence. Much like American Jews sprinkle our English with Yiddish and Hebrew. But I knew that if I spoke with Tony in Arabic and then said the word “pigua” in the middle of the sentence, the Jewish customers might flip out and I didn’t want to scare anyone.
So I looked at Google Translate to find the Arabic word: “hujoom”. I told Tony about what happened in New York and that I needed to go home to check in on friends. He looked shocked and then sad. He came over and gave me a nice warm bro handshake. I hope to see him again soon at the ice cream shop- he might not be a nice Jewish boy, but he’s certainly a nice Arab boy. And while I hope he pursues his dreams to study abroad, a part of me will be sad that this country will miss out on the presence of a kind person.
And that’s how I learned the Arabic word for “attack”. Not by, thank God, an attack on me here in Israel. And not from the media. But rather, from seeing my friends in pain in America and wanting to share my sadness with a new friend, an Arab friend. A 17-year-old kid who loves hip-hop and scoops ice cream. My neighbor.
There is nothing positive to take from a terrorist attack. It’s murder plain and simple. It’s deranged and it’s sad. I hope we can make a world where this kind of hate doesn’t exist anymore and we can live in peace. Like my cover picture from a mural I saw in Tarshiha says in Arabic: “no to violence”.
In the meantime, let’s live. Look for the everyday miracles, like my interaction with Tony. An interaction made possible by my decision as a 17-year-old to start learning Arabic at the Jewish Community Center in Rockville, Maryland. And for three years in college in St. Louis. And with Syrian refugees over Skype. And by his decision to open up to me- to show me kindness, to respect my queer identity, and to show empathy in my time of sorrow.
Peace is not made through powerful men shaking hands. That may be part of it, but it’s the opening of hearts that truly sustains it and makes it possible. May we all find a way to do so every day, even just a little bit. It makes our world a better place and it gives us hope to overcome great challenges.
May the memory of those who fell today be for a blessing. May God bring healing to wounded. And may we know the fruits of peace so that the scariest Halloween we have is when our kids sneak up on us and say: