Monday, August 4, 2008

My Land Keeps Calling Me Home

Yom sheni, 3 Av 5768/4 August 2008, Monday.

There is so much that I love in Eretz Yisrael, so much that makes it Home to me.

So many shops and businesses have mezuzot on the doors.

Tour buses stop along the highways at mincha, and groups of 30 or 40 school children shuckle their way through the afternoon prayers by the side of the road. (Actually, the girls daven fervently; the boys shove each other and bother the girls. It is refreshing to see that my sons have a large and normal chevra.)

All kinds of women come to the Kotel on Shabbat afternoon: elderly ladies in shaitels with tichels, pressing gnarled hands against the stones and kissing their fingers, weeping for dark, unknown tsooris (both their own and the kehilla's), and davening with so much kavana, Moshiach should be here by now... young girls in elaborate fringed head scarves and flowing dresses of many colors, bringing all the power of Tsfat and new-found ahavat Hashem to their fervent prayers for the safety of Israel, for the healing of Am Yisrael, for success in finding their z'vugim... young, dark girls balanced on stiletto heels, in jeans of the painted-on variety, bright tops covering a bit less midriff than necessary, blonde curls flowing over much darker history... I am in awe of this last group. They are here, at this only-holy place, instead of hanging out on Rechov Ben Yehuda with boyfriends. They may meet them at earlier or later hours; but right now they are here, and with much feeling in their prayers. I know someone will be annoyed with me for being proud of them (either because of their status, or because it seems patronizing); and yet I am. I am so glad they are here, and I hope their prayers are answered, too.

As Shabbat wanes, I sit on the creamy white stone steps opposite the Kotel, eating the challah rolls and herring provided for seudat shlishit. By twos and threes, young Litvish bochrim begin to decorate the steps below me with a uniform sea of black hats. They talk and joke and eat, and after a while, the ruach leaders of the group begin to lead z'mirot. After a few minutes, they get a rhythm going, and one song leads into another. While they lack the intricate harmonies of the men in established choirs, they have the power and exuberance of youth. The absolute joy their singing creates brings tears!

Little children play in the streets at night. On Shabbat, they play IN the street itself; but even during the week, they are outside on the sidewalks, well after my friends in Baltimore would feel it safe to leave them outside alone. Big children of five or six watch after little toddlers. They seem so happy. (It stuns me to see very young children shepherding their tiny siblings across Jerusalem via buses!)

Jews of every background are nice to me, and helpful, and patient. Taxi drivers and pharmacists help me with my Hebrew, offering aitzot for improving my study. Everyone seems to say "Be'ezrat Hashem," and "Baruch Hashem," even when they exhibit no outward signs of religiosity. It is mind-bending and humbling. It is indescribably sweet. As a dear friend of mine says, these "people speak my idiom."*

There are several radio stations which feature conversations about Hashem. Even stations with more mundane formats work into conversation something about the Parasha, or toss out quotes from Pirke Avot. You just don't get this on the American airwaves in too many places. Certainly, I could not enjoy the serenity of living in a small town in the US of A, and still get to hear the Shema at the opening of the radio broadcast, nor "Hatikva" at the end.

And speaking of the mundane: in Chutz l'Aretz, one must say "Asher yatzar" into one's cell phone, or while appearing to read a map on the wall. Otherwise, the locals may think that the Jew should be wearing foil on her head, as she is obviously communicating with the Mother Ship telepathically. In Israel, no one gives a second glance at a Jew whose lips are moving in silent prayer, regardless of the location.

This is what it is to be Home. To be taken for granted, in the warmest possible way.

*http://bataliyah.blogspot.com/2008/08/snapshots-from-holy-land.html




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