Today was my second – though first coherent (last week was jetlaghomesickdeath) – Saturday in Israel (aka the Eretz, the PL, the HL, and/or Palestine). It reminded me how much I do actually enjoy an observed Shabbos, not that I observed anything other than the coffee and eggs and salad in front of me. But the streets are quiet, few shops are open, and sidewalks are much emptier. It’s a nice way to really see the city. You notice things more fully when they are not obscured by the hustle and bustle. Architecture stands out; buildings and history speak for themselves.
It might have been the spirit of the holy day, but I actually had my first truly favorable interaction with an Israeli. I was walking uphill to meet some friends and in true Haifa style part of the route follows a staircase. Just before the stairs, I passed a shul just as it was letting out. (Side note: for some reason, Israeli men carry their tallit in plastic shopping bags.) On the stairs, I found myself walking behind two old men, chatting away. I was not really in a rush so I slowed to their pace, keeping my distance so as not to bother them. One of them turned and noticed me and tapped his friend. They turned aside to let me pass, saying something I assume meant “oh dear, you look like my granddaughter” or “oh my I didn’t know you were there I am so sorry to have been walking so slowly” or “oops here let me move aside so you can pass” or possibly “crazy stalker.” I “slicha”ed as I passed (excuse me, sorry) and the slimmer one chuckled. “Ma zeh.” It’s nothing.
They seemed so kind, so harmless. Just two old men strolling home after davening. Innocents, nu? They were so antithetical to the (unimagined) perception of Israelis as cold-hearted wenches I couldn’t help but imagine their histories. They came here before, during, or after the war, displaced European Jews just trying to survive. Learn a new language, a new climate, a new culture even. Honest-to-goodness mensches, goodniks, just living their lives in peace. Not here to bother anyone. I wanted so much for that to be the truth. Alas I couldn’t help but wonder, they were just young enough…could they have been born here? Did they fight in ’48? ’52? ’67? Do they hate? Or do they love? Can you do both?
It’s bizarre to feel a connection with people in that way. These old men are a part of my heritage and my culture and my personal history. They are Joe and Juan, half a world away. We could not have a conversation on the street but I could go into their shul and know the prayers and the tunes and the order of the service. It could be my shul.
But in some ways, they are the enemy. Not in a tactical military sense but in the sense that they are the favored. These are the people the government is structured to provide for. Its pets, its beloveds. So am I, and I don’t want to be. Not a part of the solution, so a part of the problem. The silent. And then I feel guilty, presumptuous, because I do not know their politics. Perhaps, in their own way, they know what is right and what is wrong and that this is wrong. Why don’t you leave?