Yesterday, I was sitting on a bus. In front of me, there are two Haredim, a man in a black hat and his wife. But they weren’t speaking Yiddish- they were speaking Arabic!
I listened closely to make sure it wasn’t just Hebrew with a Mizrachi accent, but no, sure enough it was Arabic. I then, in a first for me, spoke to Haredim in Arabic. Turns out the man had been born in Egypt and moved to Israel at a very young age. And his wife Miriam- now this is interesting- is Jordanian. And, in her words, Arab. Very, very few Mizrachim would identify as Arab- especially today, but even historically- many were simply Jews who lived in relative peace among their Muslim and Christian neighbors. The chaos of the modern era changed that, before nationalism, including pan-Arab nationalism (or modern Zionism) existed.
Therefore, given that a Mizrachi Jew, even who speaks some variety of Arabic or Judeo-Arabic, would likely not identify as an Arab, I wondered about this woman. Just a few days before, I had been reading about Jordan and while it has a rich ancient Jewish history, it hasn’t had a stable Jewish community for quite a long time.
Which got me thinking- I believe Miriam is a convert. In her own words, she is proud of being Arab and thinks there are good Arabs, Jews- good everyone everywhere. But she thinks Jews are nicer than Arabs. I responded that I wasn’t so sure based on my interactions with real estate agents here! We laughed.
Before I got off the bus, we passed by what I presume was a left-wing demonstration. Yesterday was the anniversary of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, the former Prime Minister of Israel. He had tried to forge a peace agreement with the Palestinians and was murdered by a fanatical right-wing Jew. The protestors blocked the intersection and started slapping the bus. I was kind of concerned, but mostly I was pissed off that these people were keeping me from my destination. I’m all for peace demonstrations, but I’m not sure what you accomplish by scaring a bunch of innocent people on a bus. I once thought only right-wing people could be fanatical, but I’ve found that people of any political stripe can be utterly intolerant and invalidating.
Annoyed by the demonstrators and extremely excited about the Haredi Arabic conversation I just had, I hopped off the bus and headed north to a dabke workshop. Dabke is a traditional Levantine dance popular among Palestinians, Jordanians, Lebanese, Syrians, Kurds, and Iraqis. For years, I’ve loved this dance. It just looks so fun! I’ve watched YouTube clips and listened to the music on my iPod. In Arabic class in college, we got a brief introduction to it, but I never really had the chance to dance it.
Until last night. I found an amazing workshop and danced my pants off. It was so much fun and the people there were at least as fun as the dance. Being the only Jew- the only non-Arab- in the room, I aroused a lot of curiosity. And frankly, mostly a bunch of friendliness. People gave me their numbers, invited me to hang out with them, asked me about America and even Israeli folk dancing (which I also do). I even met two separate women who wanted to practice Spanish with me! And the whole session- before you ask if you can join me- is in Arabic. This is their space, as it should be, and they were generous enough to allow me to enter it and enjoy their culture. So unless you’ve got some pretty strong Arabic, you’re going to have to take a language class before you take the dance class 🙂 .
If you want to take a look, this is what our dance looked like last night! (I’m the guy in the blue shorts and teal shirt). So much fun!
I returned home feeling buoyant. As I got ready for bed, I started hearing a loud noise. This was my first night in a new apartment, so I thought it might be the sirens from the hospital nearby. And then I heard what sounded like airplanes. Getting louder and louder.
My first thought was that my landlord ripped me off by giving me an affordable apartment that constantly has flyovers from Ben Gurion Airport. What a jerk!
But then I realized- the sirens kept going. This isn’t an ambulance. This isn’t a plane. This is an air raid siren.
Having absolutely no idea what to do in this situation (luckily I never experienced it in America), I googled it. And thank God somebody took the time to write it. Go to the ground floor, avoid windows and doors, and pray. And at 3:30am, that’s exactly what I did. Alone and in the dark.
I was scared absolutely shitless. I prayed and prayed and messaged a couple friends who were equally confused. After a while (which seemed like a very long while), the news published that it was a false alarm. But I’ll tell you, it didn’t sound so false when I heard plane (projectile?) after plane (missile?) overhead over and over again. I envisioned my building collapsing to the ground. Would I survive?
Thank God I did and thank God everyone is OK. I’ve truly never experienced something like that in my life before. And I hope you don’t either- it’s scary. And having read that earlier today, the terrorist group Islamic Jihad was threatening revenge because Israel destroyed one of their weapons smuggling tunnels. And that there was an armed confrontation between Israel and Syria in the north. That basically it wouldn’t have been a shock if the air raid sirens had been accurate.
Being someone who has already suffered trauma in my life, it was hard to get to sleep- it pushed a whole bunch of triggers. Finally I was able to lie down and get some rest.
I wrote to my friends on Facebook last night that if you don’t have the dedication and faith to keep you here, you simply won’t make it.
Everyone has a stake in this society and we must work together to make it the best place on the planet- which I think it is and has the potential to be.
I understand the rage that people can feel here- when you’re scared, when you’re scarred, you just want to lash out. There are productive ways to do this and harmful ones and I hope we can strive to do the former more than the latter.
To anyone outside of Israel who has any doubt as to what terrorism does to the Israeli psyche, I invite you to crash at my place next time there’s an air raid siren. All the Ambien in the world won’t help you sleep and it will haunt you after you wake.
And to the “peace” activists who slapped my bus- I get you. You’re horrified, you’ve been hurt by someone, somewhere in this Holy Land. But get a therapist. Do some yoga. Pray. Take some anti-anxiety medications. Whatever works for you. But stop taking out your anger on your fellow man.
Be like the hundreds of young people I saw engaging in dialogue in Kikar Rabin yesterday. Be like the Haredi man who married a Jordanian (convert?) and speaks Arabic. Be like me and go dance Palestinian dabke with new Arab friends.
Or be like my Arab friend Lena who I met last night. When I told her I was an American Jew who now lived in Tel Aviv, her answer was simple and touching:
“You are welcome here.”
That, my friends, is how you make peace. One heart at a time. A quiet and beautiful answer to the screeching of a siren.
As my cover photo says in Arabic: “life is sweet”. Damn straight it is. Because I’m alive.