We may argue, we may have our differences, but when push comes to shove, we come through for each other
By Chandrea Serebro
Picture it. Somewhere in Israel. 2020. The time is Corona. A second lockdown seems imminent, and everybody is feeling the strain. Social distancing is the name of the game. Socialising a thing of the past. Shuls are out of sight, but not out of mind. People are resilient, and even within the constraints of the lockdown there are outdoor minyanim popping up everywhere – in the middle of traffic circles, in the common areas of buildings, and in the backyards of houses around the country. Every morning, kaddish can be heard throughout the streets echoed by the amen of the minyan dotted at intervals around the outdoor shuls, and, on Shabbat, the minyanim are at every other corner too. Shul has never been so empty or quite so full, and the feeling that we will triumph with faith in Hashem pervades. Except, where it doesn’t. Because sometimes, even in Israel, it doesn’t. And that is at the outdoor minyan of Binyamin*, which began the very day after shuls were forced to close and which has stood the test of 2020 and all that Corona has brought with it.
Largely French and Israeli gatherers, strangers alike who share the neighbourhood and some of whom even come from further off to participate in what they know will be a sure thing, the minyan has persevered through thick and thin and has had an ongoing Shabbat minyan despite the protestations of a few – a few who failed to see the beauty in the perseverance of Jewish prayer and could only see the weekly nag of a dozen or more men whose devotion would ebb and wane with the volume of their singing.
And for an Israeli like David*, who works hard in the week and Shabbat is truly his day off, it is understandable that, at times, his patience would begin to wear thin. And like every good Israeli, when his patience wears thin, he doesn’t feel the need to keep it in, which meant that flare-ups became part of the service, and sometimes in the middle of the Shemoneh Esrei too. Or Torah reading, or whenever the situation became too much for David on his day off. Binyamin recalls how many times throughout the outdoor shul’s services, David would haul out his electric guitar and begin playing to the depths of his soul, practising his hobby on his only day off, in the confines of his house – and, in truth, there is nothing wrong with that. And then some brave soul would march up to his apartment and the fighting would ensue, because both parties are well within their rights, after all. Or how David and his son would turn up the TV on the balcony of their apartment to the limit and enjoy their Netflix shows while the chazzan strained his voice to be heard.
Tensions were mounting, and not even the closure of shuls for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the holiest days of the year, could contain David’s resentment of his not-so-friendly neighbourhood shul and help him to see the void that it had filled. Out came the electric guitar, up went the TV volume, the shouts and obscenities bolder. An outright confrontation between Binyamin and David set the pace of the services at double time, and the worshippers went home with their morale at an all-time low, Binyamin’s anger at an all-time high, and David’s resentment topping the charts. Simmering down with the closure of the minyan for Sukkot due to an outbreak of Corona and heftier lockdown restrictions, soon the rainy weather would begin, and shul would be harder to commit to.
And, so it was, that soon after, one Shabbat morning, the rain pelting down, with Corona nowhere near subsiding, Binyamin found himself in the driveway area with only a handful of committed members of his staunch minyan that had stood the test of Corona and endured even David’s antics. Waiting to start, a marquee providing scant shelter from the rain, suddenly Binyamin found himself at a loss. Pacing around in the hope that someone would arrive, the late-sleeper, and scanning the street up and down in the hopes of a passer-by, yet seeing no one in the rain, there was not much to be done, but sit and wait and hope for some late comers. More than 30 minutes later, they found themselves at nine men and no minyan, out of options and out of time.
Seeing this from his balcony, David didn’t think twice. Despite his protestations, he could see that the not-yet-minyan was about to disband, and he knew that he couldn’t allow that. How could he let his personal feelings of insult and injury get in the way of enabling a minyan, not least one that had been going and persevering despite the troubled times that the country, and the world, found itself in. And with that, David grabbed his raincoat and hurried down, taking the tenth seat and the services shortly began. Binyamin’s heart felt fit to burst, and as he nodded at David, somewhat begrudgingly, he felt himself doff his cap at him too, and the services went on.
David slipped out towards the end. The next week, the sun high in the sky, David resumed his instrument and his morning dose of Netflix, but he started slightly later, the tempo was marginally lower, and both Binyamin and David felt the true reality of life in Israel. Because only in Israel would two Jews, one observant, the other most definitely not, put their differences aside to enable the prayer service and the practise of Jewish life itself, the very foundations upon which the country that holds them together is built. Only in Israel can two Jews, without a common ground in so many ways, come together to say amen in the pouring rain. Only in Israel.
Only in Israel tales…
“After a fantastic outing with scooters at the Park in Ra’anana, our daughter, Tsofia, managed to lock herself in our rental car (no spare key) with the keys inside. Note to new oleh: save emergency numbers when you arrive. Please G-d, you’ll never need them, but good to have!! Thanks to friends and one of our new teachers, a team of firemen, police, municipal representatives, park management, and an ambulance arrived within minutes to help get her out the car. It was clear in the faces and the efforts of each person that they were all responding as if Tsofia was their own child. Within minutes the door was delicately opened without any chaos or smashing glass, or added stress to the child locked inside. And what is even more amazing, was just how calm Tsofia remained throughout the whole episode. When I went to thank the first person who arrived, his response was: go hug your child first, then come thank me!”
“We recently had a flood in our basement – not from the weather, but from a burst pipe. Water was gushing out, and every second it was getting deeper, the water level rising. I was on my own with the kids while they were eating their supper and I was panicking. I had no idea how to shut down a pipe. Opposite our house there is a shul. I could see from the window that they were just finishing maariv, and people were beginning to leave. I ran across the road screaming, “Help! Help!”, trying to explain my emergency in my convoluted Hebrew and amidst my panic. Three men ran back into the house with me, and what felt like in the nick of time turned off the water, saving me and my kids. They then even began helping me to clear up before some of my neighbours arrived to check that I was ok.
The next day, after the mess was cleared up and the house began to dry, I thought it would be nice to say thank you properly to the three men who helped to save my kids’ lives, and, in case I was being melodramatic, even just to thank them for their time and kindness. So, I made up three gift bags with wine and chocolate and went across the road at mincha/maariv time to wait for them. I couldn’t see them. I returned the next day, at the same time. I didn’t find them. Every day for the next week I tried to find them but failed. I asked the rabbi and the gabbai if they could perhaps find out who these mysterious saviours of mine were. And to please tell them that I wanted to thank them. Two days later I get a knock on my door from the gabbai. “It must have been Eliyahu Hanavi and his angels,” he said. “Slicha? Sorry? What do you mean?” I replied, confused. “We asked everyone; no one knows who these men were. It must have been Eliyahu and his melachim!” And they were never to be seen of again.”
“Only in Israel does Ben and Jerry’s make a kosher for Pesach, charoset flavoured ice-cream. And believe it or not…it is delicious!”
“It happened on a Friday, just hours before the beginning of Shabbat. 20 March – the lockdown was beginning to descend upon us. Police were starting to monitor traffic…and then this happened:
I had to drive to Jerusalem to bring food supplies to my mother.
On the way home, on Highway One, I get pulled over by police.
Policeman: ‘Is everything okay? Do you have an emergency or something that makes it urgent for you to drive?’
Me: ‘I am bringing food to my elderly mother for Shabbat and the coming days.’
He reaches into the police car and takes out a bouquet of flowers.
He: ‘Take. I bought some bouquets of flowers before starting my shift to give to the people I stop who have heartwarming stories of why they’re driving.’
Me: ‘What a shame! I already brought the food. I’m on my way home.’
He: ‘OK, so listen to me. Not while you’re driving – you hear me? Not while you’re driving, but when you get home, you call your mom and tell her that Rafi wishes her good health and Shabbat Shalom.’”
“The taxi driver calls me Saraleh because he can see my name is Sarah from the Get Taxi app. He also can see I used a profile picture where my hair is blown out all shiny, and he says, ‘It still looks like you in the picture but I can see you had a busy day today and didn’t do your hair. But, thank G-d, you’re busy. Being not busy is the worst. I retired 10 years ago and I almost lost my mind until I became a taxi driver, HaShem Yishmor — G-d protect you.’
My 9-year-old son coughs.
‘Here, have a candy,’ the driver says. ‘It’s a candy for coughs.’
‘We don’t take candy from strangers,’ my son replies.
‘It isn’t really candy. It’s medicine for your cough.’
‘We don’t take drugs from strangers, either,’ my 11-year-old daughter says.
‘I’m not a stranger. Right, Saraleh? Tell your kids. We are all Israeli. We are all family.’
We all take a candy. They’re sealed. I make a mental note to talk about this with my kids at home.
‘Stay busy, Saraleh,’ he says. ‘Remember, being busy is better than good hair.’ He rubs his bald spot and laughs. ‘And don’t forget to give Uncle Pinchas 5 stars and a tip.’”
Sarah Tuttle-Singer, author of Taxi Driver Stories from the wild streets of the Holy Land and writer at Jerusalem Post
“It was the first time that I had visited Israel after dreaming of doing so.
I took a taxi at the airport.
‘Shalom,’ the taxi driver said.
‘Shalom, please take me to Ben Yehuda street.’
‘No problem, are you Russian?’
‘No, I’m not.’
‘I have some Jewish background, that is the reason I come here, I love Israel.’
‘You can’t love something that you have not seen yet,’ the driver said.
‘You are right, but still, I feel at home.’
‘You feel like being at home? So, welcome home, dear!’ The driver smiled.
‘You know, I have always thought that Israel is not just a country, but an emotion.’
‘You are right, Israel is love and welcomes those who love it. Welcome home and have a nice time, layla tov,’ the driver said.
‘Thank you, layla tov.’
Since that time, I never say that I am going to visit Israel, I say that I’m going home.”
Slavica Milošević from Taxi Driver Stories