Time Of Favors
I've been MIA for a large number of reasons, mostly dealing with medical issues for the Boy and insurance for the Husband; changes in our routine due to the Husband's employment and of course, the Chagim.....the Husband is now working for an anti-terror unit of the Jerusalem Police; I am struggling to deal with the Boy's disability paperwork with Bituach Leumi; we're working on coordinating a plan of treatment with his neurologist; we dealt with an outbreak of seizures over Purim; and we were the recipients of great kindness over Pesach.
Nefesh B'Nefesh recommends, as do many vatikim, that each new olim family find a "buddy" family. Being folks who operate under the delusion that we can handle just about anything ourselves, we never hooked up with another NBN family.....but HaShem had other plans for us. Our "buddy" family found us.
It started with a taxi ride. Everyone on the Tachlis message board has warned newcomers about the taxi drivers and how some will offer newcomers a "deal" of only 50 shekels for a 30 shekel ride off-the-meter. We were wary of taxis. Being without a car, we walked all over Baka, Moshava Germanit, Katamon and Talpiot. We bussed downtown and walked all over the City Center. We avoided taxis since we were very much in "we-can-handle-this-ourselves" mode. However, the day came when we staggered out of a mall with too many bundles to schlep--and we approached a taxi which was dropping off a fare.
The driver agreed to take us for the relatively short ride home, which not all taxis will do. He got out of the car and helped my husband load our bags into the trunk. He and the Husband chatted in Hebrew on the way home and the driver ascertained that the Husband was a retired police officer and I had worked in an office (I try to keep the word "lawyer" out of my conversations with people). As we pulled into the parking lot of our building, I said something to the Husband in English, and our driver chimed in--turned out he spoke extremely good English. There was no hassle about the fare -- without asking or bargaining, he had turned on the meter, so I paid him. I also gave him a good tip. Many of my friends in school worked as bus or taxi drivers, or waitresses, so when I ride in a cab or sit in a cafe, that particular element of the working class tends to benefit from overtipping.
The driver was both surprised and pleased, and immediately handed us his business card. I took the card and put it in my wallet, surprised myself that taxi drivers have business cards at all. This turned out to be a good move, since hailing a taxi along Derech Hebron is almost impossible, and it was far simpler to call Yossi, our driver.
Another day, we called him for a ride to the mall. "What do you need at the mall?" he asked as we talked in the taxi. The Husband told him we were looking for a particular electronic item. Now Yossi thinks we're two retired olim struggling on a policeman's retirement (which isn't much in Israel) who are elderly and in danger of being ripped off by other Israelis. "Noooooo," he said, with that long Israeli intonation of the negative, "No one shop at the mall--they rip you off. Israelis don't shop there--for tourists! Israelis go to Hashmal store!"
Yes, there is an equivalent of Price Club/Sam's Club/Home Depot/Costco here in Talpiot. I have since learned that discount shops abound in Israel if one knows where to find them. Clearly, as newcomers, we don't -- but Yossi knows. He took us to the Hashmal store where we purchased our item for a third of what it cost in the electronic boutique in the mall.
This is the same taxi driver who several months ago started insisting that we speak only Hebrew in his taxi. "It is no good, Sarah," he told me. "You go to school but you never speak. You must speak Hebrew to learn it, otherwise you always speak English." From that day onward, he spoke to me and the Boy only in Hebrew, slowly and clearly and in simple phrases, so we can practice.
Then there was grocery shopping. "You shop THERE?" Yossi asked me one day as we passed HaMoshava Supermarket, in a tone of voice usually used for the feeble-minded. "Well," I offered tentatively,"its within walking distance, we like their meat and produce, and they don't charge for their shopping carts."
"Charge? What you talking about?" Yossi asked, the protective instinct coming to the fore.
"You know--every time you use a shopping cart, you have to pay 5 shekels." I explained, surprised that this ubiquitous custom was unknown to a sabra. I received a look of total incredulity. "The 5 shekels is not a charge, Sarah" he explained with pronounced patience. "The 5 shekels is to unlock the cart, and when you return the cart and relock it, the 5 shekels come out of the container. You get back the 5 shekels. You understand?"
Oh. It was a deposit to keep people from leaving carts all over the streets and all over the parking lots. Oh. Did I feel stupid? You bet.
"No one shop here," Yossi went on to explain. "You shop at Rami Levy -- it's good and much less money." I'd never heard of Rami Levy, the discount grocery chain. Turns out there are three of them in Talpiot, and Yossi drove me over to what he and his wife consider the best of the three.
"But its too far to walk with all our groceries, " I protested (we still didn't have a car at that point.)
"No problem, Sarah -- I take you, you shop, and when you done, you call me. I come and take you and the groceries to your home," he assured me. (Rami Levy doesn't deliver--both Yossi and our neighbors, Tilda and Avi, told us about other, less expensive grocery stores which DO deliver.)
Our education in the ways of survival-in-Israel has continued under the tutelage of Yossi and the rest of his family. When we all came down with the flu in February, his mother made the entire Shabbat meal (both days) for us and he delivered it. He, along with our other Sephardi neighbors next door, checked in on us daily, offered to pick up medicine at the pharmacy, food at the grocery store or drive us to the doctor.
I wanted the Boy to take swimming lessons before summer started. He knows how to swim just enough to be dangerous to himself. I had no idea how to find swimming lessons for him. Yossi's wife, as soon as she found out I wanted lessons for my son, arranged with her children's instructor to include the Boy in their class.
Yossi's wife also found a shop that makes a kind of "dogtag" for the Boy -- since we haven't found a Medic-Alert bracelet here, it was her idea to make one ourselves. The "dogtag" addresses the Boy's seizure disorder and his allergy to penicillin, AND provides a phone number for emergencies -- Yossi's. As Yossi pointed out to us, his phone is always on because of his business--and he is always "in the neighborhood." If for some reason he can't get to our son quickly enough, he has all of our phone numbers programmed into his cellphone and can call us.
Yossi also went with the Husband to Bituach Leumi a couple of weeks ago. As a returning Israeli, the Husband has had to wait 10 months to get health insurance. This involved filling out forms (in Hebrew) and going to multiple windows to talk to the clerks (in Hebrew). Yossi volunteered to go with him. On the way, he called his neighbor who works at Bituach Leumi and explained who the Husband was and what he needed -- and as a result, the Husband was in and out of the office in under five minutes, forms complete, no red-tape.
The Boy needs paperwork from Bituach Leumi which pertains to his disabilities. The paperwork is on the Internet. Can I, with my kita aleph Hebrew, read the Hebrew website? Nawwwww......but Yossi and his wife can. This morning, his wife downloaded all the appropriate forms from Bituach Leumi's website and tonight they are both going to sit down, take an hour out from their family time, and fill out the forms which they know that neither I or the Husband have the Hebrew proficiency to do ourselves. This, so that our son can get help from the government and medical establishment he needs.
All these, of course, are totally unexpected kindnesses from people we have now known for less than a year....and in total contrast to the Anglo community's "excuse-me-but-you're-sitting-in-my-seat" experience we've had so far with our Landsmen.
We've always eaten kitniyot (rice and beans, forbidden by Ashkenazi custom)during Pesach. The Husband eats it because that was the custom on his kibbutz, and as his mother was totally secular and never put on a Seder, and his father wasn't Jewish, that became his minhag. I eat it now because my husband eats it. A wife follows her husband's tradition. When we first started going to Chabad in California, we tried not to eat kitniyot because its not an Ashkenazi custom, but to our relief, three other families in our congregation ate kitniyot--so we three families became the kitniyot group for Pesach in our little community.
This Pesach, as newcomers still in search of a community and synagogue that "fit," we were prepared to do Pesach alone. However, the reciprocity of our kindnesses to our neighbors and to Yossi's family, because we love them and they've been warm, kind, helpful and loving to us, resulted in a cooking-free Pesach for us: we ate either at our neighbor's house or at Yossi's mother's house for nearly all of Pesach -- the First Night, Shabbat and the Last Night were all at Yossi's mother's home. The Sephardi custom is to eat kitniyot, and both families were concerned about our presumed Ashkenazi eating habits. Once we assured them that we, too, eat kitniyot,we were immediately invited for Pesach meals. I've never seen so much food in my life. My husband has, but only in the Army.
Apart from a table groaning under enough food to feed a platoon, being surrounded by four generations of family was amazing. From the great-grand-mother to the youngest seven-year-old, they embraced us as family, and made this the greatest Pesach ever--and a memorable first Pesach in Israel.
To their credit, Nefesh B'Nefesh, in an effort to make sure no olim were alone on their first Pesach in Israel, called us several days before the holiday. A young lady with an indeterminate East Coast accent asked us if we needed a family to celebrate the Seder with? If so, NBN would hook us up with another family.
"Oh, no, thank you," I bubbled, "We have friends who have invited us for nearly every meal over Pesach, including the Seders."
"Oh, that's nice," she replied warmly, "Are they also Americans?"
"No, no, they're Sephardi--as a matter of fact, our neighbors are from Turkey and our 'Seder family' is from Morocco." I said happily, anticipating wonderful food and warm company.
Pregnant silence. Then, "Oh.....well, THAT will be special," she retorted flatly, with the merest tinge of sarcasm.
Yes, it will be, I thought -- more than you could ever know, with your American pretensions, tasteless Ashkenazi food, and misplaced sense of superiority. There is more Yiddishkeit and warmth and love in the Sephardi families of Jerusalem who have "adopted" us than you will ever know--your loss, our gain. We are blessed indeed, to have found families here who have the heart and soul to take in these wandering Jews who have finally wandered home, and who have bestowed on us their heartfelt acceptance.
I wonder if we changed our last name if we could pass for Moroccan? No? Too bad....