Yom chamishi, 2 Sivan 5768/2 June 2008, Thursday.
She sips her cafe hafuch. "So, do you have friends?"
"Well, of course," I answer her, thinking how weird is the question. We move on to other topics; and suddenly, it is time for her flight back to the States.
She has been my very good friend, wise and funny, for ten or fifteen years. We know each other pretty well. I guess she wants to be sure that my move to Israel is going well, that I feel no lack. Her question seems strange to me, because I know that she knows that "friend" doesn't happen in six months. How does the expression go? "It takes a lot of time to grow an old friend." (It's more graceful in Hebrew, in which I first heard it.) You encounter your commonalities, and celebrate them. You discover the things that each of you is missing, that the other can fill in. You "eat a lot of salt" together, either over the times you don't get along so well, or over the crises you share with each other. You rejoice in her joys, and suffer during her sorrows. And she over yours. All of this takes time. Sometimes you live in a place for years, before you even meet her.
I have met many really lovely ladies since we arrived. But "friend"? Not yet. And, of course, I am not bothered by this, because I read the above paragraph.
Before we quite make it to the door of the hardware store, Shlomi leaves the stack of baskets he is organizing outside, and moves quickly to shake my husband's hand. "Shalom, my friend! It's so good to see you." His smile is really radiant. "You know, I don't own this place. I only work here." He says this to prove the sincerity of his next words. "But when I see people like you, who come to live in Israel, I am so happy. I am so proud of you! Thank you for coming to live here! Kol hakavod. Kol hakavod! I am always so happy to see you!"
We are grinning at him, pleasantly overwhelmed by his enthusiasm. "We are always happy to see you, too, my friend," says my husband, gripping his hand warmly, and giving his shoulder a gentle squeeze with his big baseball mitt hand. "You are always friendly. You make us feel welcome."
This session goes on for several silly, sweet moments. Going to the hardware store has become a favorite ritual, because pleasantries are always shared. Shlomi praises our efforts at Hebrew, and continues to make us feel welcome. His ahavat Yisrael lights up the room.
I am not sure how I will do in an all-Hebrew Tehillim shiur. But Geula says that it is all right for me to sit in, even if all I do is listen. I go, and thoroughly enjoy myself. Her Hebrew, though a bit fast for me, is nice and clear. I understand a bit more than I thought I would, enough to know that hers is a unique and interesting view of David HaMelech's mission in writing the Tehillim. Once again, a very intelligent teacher shows me that there is so much depth to our holy Torah, and that everything is interconnected, without accident. The ladies in the class are very pleasant, and make me feel like a welcome addition to the small circle of talmidot. I am very happy that I didn't talk myself out of participating.
The next night, I am privileged to attend a function at which will speak the great Jew and Nobel Prize-winning game theorist, Professor Robert Yisrael Aumann. Before the program, there is nosh, of course. I am strolling around the room with a new acquaintance, when I see her. "Ah!" I exclaim to my new friend, "There is my excellent teacher." As she sees me, Geula walks over to me, and gives me a genuinely warm hug. I am a bit taken aback, as she is a very elegant lady; and even a reserved smile and nod of the head would have delighted me. It is like expecting a lovely light salad, and being served a perfectly-grilled steak. I walk away feeling very seriously "friended."
Say what you want to, about the closeness to Hashem, the kedusha of the Land, the interesting culture, the flavors and smells and music.
It's the Jews that make Israel home.