nope, not a joke, just a regular afternoon 😉
Today was tiring, so I thought it’d be nice to remember a really hopeful story from my travels in Israel.
I had gone up to Haifa to explore and was taking the train back to Tel Aviv. The train in Israel is not just a vehicle- it’s the town square. People chat, gossip, exchange numbers- even make friends. It’s a place that reflects the warmth of this country more than any other place on the planet I’ve visited. You’re never really alone on the train. Sometimes that means loud music and conversations, but it’s never boring and it just feels like home.
There was one seat left in a four seat area. The three 20-something guys were talking in Arabic.
I sat down and after about a minute I chimed in in Arabic. They were stunned. I love sharing how I speak Arabic with Arabs here. I recently made a video in Arabic about how and why I learned the language. In short, I learned Syrian Arabic with a professor from Damascus in America and then with Syrian refugees on Skype. Which you can do too. For an Arab here to hear an American-Israeli Jew speaking Syrian Arabic is a bit like an American hearing a North Korean speaking like a native New Yorker. People are often in amazement. It’s great 🙂 I like melting hearts.
One guy was a Christian from Mi’ilya, one of my favorite villages in Israel. It’s a Greek Catholic Arab village that I’ve visited twice. They have a beautiful historic church and it’s near a Crusader castle I want to visit. The people are so warm. They even have a cool locally-made chocolate shop! For the linguistically inclined among us, they also speak with a “qaf” or what we write in English as a “q”- usually a trait of Druze villages here. It was really cool to find that out.
And to find out that one of the Druze guys comes from Yarka, a village that despite being Druze, actually doesn’t use the “qaf” but instead uses a hamza, or “hiccup” sound. So for instance, the word “qalb” or “heart” in Arabic would be pronounced ‘alb. In short, the Christian speaks like the Druze and the Druze like the Christian- at least on this train 😉
Except for the super hot Druze guy next to me. See the Christian and the Druze guys across from me are in school together in the south of Israel. It can be hard to tell with Arab men because they have very intimate male friendships, but I actually kind of wondered if they were a couple. They’d make a cute one 😉 I noticed a lot of physical and emotional closeness. It was sweet either way.
Back to the hot Druze guy. He uses the “qaf” like most Druze 😉 He wasn’t in school, he was in the army. He had a gorgeous, warm, inviting smile. A beautiful laugh. And a kind heart. And an outside just as beautiful.
We talked a lot. All of us. Turns out each village even has its own kubbeh, a Middle Eastern food usually involving meat stuffed into a kind of fried covering. What I didn’t know is that there are villages up north with RAW kubbeh. Yes, the kubbeh meat isn’t cooked! I joked with them that if they opened a restaurant in Tel Aviv and called it Arab Sushi, they’d make a million bucks. We laughed 🙂
When they got off the train, I was sad to see them go. I gave the Druze soldier my number and told him and his friends to be in touch when they come to Tel Aviv.
Then, the most curious and beautiful thing happened.
Two Sephardic Haredi men- also pretty young- moved over to my section. They study in Yeshiva, seminary, in Ofakim. They needed help figuring out possible routes home, so I opened my app. They don’t have smartphones- a lot of ultra-Orthodox don’t. In order to keep out unwanted internet content, etc. They were really nice and I helped them find some ways home.
Both of them are of Moroccan origin. We talked about their yeshiva- I was familiar with Shas yeshivas in that they tend to be modeled after Lithuanian ones. The ones my ancestors prayed in 🙂 We talked about Sephardic culture- they didn’t know about Ladino! Ladino was less of a Moroccan thing (although they had a dialect called Haketia which was similar), but they were astounded to learn about this Judeo-Spanish language! And they’re going to search for Ladino music at home…because I think they have Youtube there. I didn’t ask 😉
Then the best question came up: “so, what were you talking with those kids about in Arabic?” I smiled. But before I could answer, they said: “we think you were talking about food!”
And they were right! I told them all about our conversation. Their eyes lit up. They were eager and willing to learn about all that we discussed. And in a spirit of curiosity. About their neighbors.
As I left the train, I couldn’t help but feel satisfied. I was the bridge between 2 Druze, a Christian, and 2 ultra-Orthodox Sephardic Jews. When people ask me what I do with my eight languages (expecting that I work for the military or make loads of money)- this is what I do. If people want to work in other fields, that’s great. We need multilingual people in intelligence. The intelligence I’m doing is on how to bring people together. I use my Hebrew, my Arabic, and other languages to live a happy, healthy, and fulfilling life. That hopefully shares some of that joy with others.
I couldn’t have had this experience without speaking both Hebrew and Arabic. One thing I’ve realized lately is that I can’t translate some of my feelings to English. I’m thoroughly Israeli. I think and feel in Hebrew- and in Arabic. Often better than in English. This is where my soul breathes and lives to the fullest. America feels cold to me- distant, polite, dull, preoccupied with the self.
Israel is a place of great warmth. Among every sector of society. It’s astounding and a beautiful thing to be a part of. I’m grateful for the dozens of people who host me for meals and to stay in their homes. I pass that warmth on to the people around me. Like when I met a lone soldier on the bus the other day from New Jersey, far from home on his birthday. And took him out to baklava and Eritrean food and hosted him for the night.
Find me an American- in America- who does that. It just doesn’t happen. I’m sure there are sociological reasons, fear, crime, who knows. There are reasons for everything, sometimes valid and sometimes that don’t match up with the facts.
All I know is that in Israel, we are direct, we are generous, we are honest. I never have to guess what an Israeli is thinking. Even if I don’t like what they say- I know they’ll speak their mind. And I can say I don’t like it either. We can be truthful.
And the honest truth is this: at a time when America is crumbling- when Republicans and Democrats struggle to even be friends. When my liberal friends bash evangelicals. And right-wingers pretend anything that doesn’t fit with their worldview is “fake news”.
In Israel, we have a glue that keeps us together. Perhaps out of necessity, but also just because this is a special place with special people. Who tend to have a real depth of kindness and a zest for life.
You might like to hate on us for what’s going on in Gaza or barely utter a peep when Iran launches missiles at the Golan. But in the end, for all the conflict here, Israelis- we’re a hell of a lot better than Americans (or Europeans) at actually getting along.
That’s a sentence that might be hard to stomach- or maybe to believe. If that’s the case, you’re probably not Israeli 😉 It’s true- there’s a lot of beef between all the sectors of society I spoke to on that train. But you know what? You’re never going to see my interaction on CNN. Because they’ve decided that only dead bodies are sexy.
But guess what? So are Druze soldiers talking, smiling at an American-Israeli whose life is now a whole lot more hummus than grilled cheese.
P.S.- that’s the Druze flag with a Magen David, the Star of David. Because I love Druze 🙂