This morning, I knew I wanted to go on trip. After my doctor’s appointment, I wasn’t sure where to go. So I noticed the nearby bus stop went to Rosh Ha’ayin and I hopped on a bus.
I’ve long been fascinated with the city, which was founded largely by Yemenite Jews. They have a heritage center there, which I’d love to visit another time- it was about to close when I arrived.
Not sure what to do, I simply walked upwards. I noticed that I was very, very close to the Green Line, the line that separates pre-1967 Israel from the West Bank/Judea and Samaria. I caught some absolutely gorgeous views of the hills on the other side- just stunning. The nature was stunning and also the mystery of what’s over there intrigues me. Yes the hatred and also the forbidden nature of it. It’s so, so close and it’s legally quite far. The anger and animosity that forbids me from visiting is overwhelmingly sad. Also because I know it’s not a simple thing to fix. There are reasons why Israel needs a security fence and there are reasons why Palestinians are angry about it.
Rather than get into the politics, I want to share an odd observation. The fence itself in this particular place- it was pretty. It struck me. Fences anywhere usually aren’t so pretty. I’ve seen our border fence with Syria. It’s pretty much just a fence. I’ve seen from afar the concrete parts of Israel’s security fence in Jerusalem and they look pretty concrete-y and gray. For whatever reason, the part of the Green Line that is a wall here is oddly…attractive. Its yellow stones strangely complemented the gorgeous hills I viewed on the other side. While not being able to go there frustrated me, I felt oddly at peace. This is what it is now. To protect me, this wall needs to be here. And I hope one day we’ll be in a place where me and the Palestinians on the other side can live next to each other with normality. We’re pretty different in a lot of ways, but maybe one day I’ll find a friend there. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy the view and the hope.
After almost making it to a Yemenite restaurant in Rosh Ha’ayin before a downpour, I decided to take a bus to a mall in Petach Tikvah. I was in need of a new backpack and since it was raining (torrentially- 9 children were killed in flash floods, z”l), I headed indoors.
I had never been to Petach Tikvah and, to its credit, I have not yet explored there. I’m sure I will. The view from the bus wasn’t fantastic- it’s a kind of concrete jungle that reminds me a lot of Northern Virginia. And like Northern Virginia has the beauty of Old Town Alexandria and the ethnic food of Annandale, I imagine Petach Tikvah has its charm too. It just wasn’t where my bus was driving.
I got off and went into what has to be the largest, cleanest mall I’ve seen in Israel. Orderly, calm, and at least when I was there, relatively quiet. A kind of reminder of what America was like sometimes, just in Hebrew 😉 . I got a new backpack- I’ve traveled so much that the bottom of my backpack has come unsewn. I have a great relationship with my backpack- one of my steadiest- and I’ll miss it. I started to say kaddish for it and haven’t quite yet let it go. But I do have a new friend to carry with me and it looks snazzy and sturdy. May it bring me to great adventures and fun.
Leaving Petach Tikvah, I thought to drop my stuff off and go to Bnei Brak for gefilte fish. I called my friend Yisrael to get the address for his restaurant. Then, my monit sherut cab dropped me off by Neve Sha’anan, a neighborhood of mostly refugees and non-Jewish foreign workers. Instead of going to eat gefilte fish, I went to my favorite Nepali restaurant here, ordered chicken momos (a whole plate for 20 shekels!), and chatted with a bunch of friendly Nepali guys. And debated American politics with the Tibetan chef. There were moments of discomfort when I explained how I immigrated here and have dual citizenship- something most of them could only dream of. The tension of feeling bad for them and the tension of feeling like there’s not always an easy solution to these kinds of things. Because I want them to have equal rights and I also think that in order to have the only Jewish state on the planet, how do we draw a line in a humane way that allows us to continue that miracle? Not so easy. On the upside, one of the guys, Diwass, happily agreed to exchange his Nepali for my Hebrew, so we traded numbers 🙂 . Always good to stay grounded in a place where the “what if-ing” could occupy your whole life.
On my way home, I realized I wanted some produce. There’s a beautiful new store opened by a Darfuri guy from Sudan. He recognized me from my last visit and we talked fruits and veggies in Arabic. I asked him about his former city in Darfur, Kutum. I told him I’d look it up and learn about it. We talked about the languages of Darfur and my work and me being a dual American-Israeli citizen.
We wished each other ma3 asalaameh and I walked home. One of the (many) Mizrachi synagogues on my neighborhood had a huge gathering of people on its porch. Because in Israel, we treat each other as family more than strangers, I went up to a guy and asked him: “what’s going on here?” And he said: “It’s a hazkarah.” Or what Ashkenazi Jews might know as a yahrtzeit, the anniversary of one’s death. I said: “but everyone is so happy!” His response is one of the most beautiful I’ve ever heard: “it’s been a year.” He smiled and we went our separate ways.
Why is this man’s response one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard? Because it represents the absolute best of this country and of Judaism. But a Judaism so concentrated and radically accepting of the present that I’ve never seen such a thing in another country. We were sad a year ago. Someone passed. And now, we come together in a spirit of joy. Not the joy of pretending it didn’t happen, but the joy that we’re here together. To remember someone we loved and to thank God for being alive.
Want to know why I live in this Land? A land threatened by terrorists and missiles and theocrats from every side and all across the region? A place where your bags are searched in every mall and theater and where soldiers carry guns on the train? A place where the landlords and real estate agents won’t hesitate twice before screwing you? A place where the salaries are lower than America? A place where I sometimes miss the cleanliness and rules and museums and delicious Asian food of America?
Because we know how to live life to the fullest. And we have the amazing landscapes and people and cultures and kindness to do so. In America, I often felt distant from my neighbors. You don’t invite yourself to someone’s home- you ask them for permission. And don’t want to “impose”. Here, there’s a deep appreciation for the value of every second you have on this planet. And there’s an incredible generosity of spirit that allows me to sit with Nepalese workers and Darfuri refugees and my Syrian Jewish neighbors for hours on end. With no “transactional” expectations of our relationship. Just because we’re human beings. And friends.
The other day, when I told my American friend how in Israel you can go from a Bedouin town to a Hasidic synagogue to a gay club in just one day, he said: “but how many people actually do that?”
I’m not sure. More should. The point is here you can. And I definitely do. So if you’re getting bored on your commute from Rockville to Washington or Evanston to Chicago or Westchester to New York, open up Skyscanner. Find yourself reaching for your wallet to buy a ticket. And click “yes”.
Because you might just find yourself having a Yemenite-West Bank-Nepali-Darfuri-Mizrachi Jewish kind of day.
Or as I call it: “Thursday” 😉
p.s.- my cover photo is of Libyan soup I had yesterday. Because no image could possibly capture such a mix of cultures better than a delicious stew 😉