Angels Don’t Leave Footprints

If “Mayberry RFD” had a twin-town in the Middle-East, my building would be the Jerusalem spot where Andy, Opie and Aunt Bea would reside.   Yep, when I first met the cheery folks in my building who would soon become both good friends and excellent neighbors, I was struck with the thought that I’d moved into a Catskill Mountain bungalow colony.  The general tone of day-to-day life felt downright cornball on some days.  We frequently shared Shabbat meals, housed each others’ overflow of guests, mourned together in times of grief and danced like mad at our respective simchas.
What I could not know at the time of my arrival (but would learn during the ensuing years) was the myriad charitable endeavors to which my neighbors will their valuable time when not attending to the daily grind of work, children and community obligations.
“V’Ahavta L’Rayacha K’Mocha: Love your neighbor as yourself.”  A floor-to-floor search offers an impressive list of the loving-kindness that is evident in our modest binyan: hospitality and rabbinical counseling for those in the process of converting to Judaism; recycling awareness; free-loan society; art lessons for the elderly; free guided tours to Judea and Shomron; bill-translating and budget counseling; sports activities for youth-in-crisis.  And only this past Shabbos did I discover that the fellow on the top floor (the only sabra in the building) is a volunteer police officer when he isn’t managing a lucrative auto maintenance business.  Sharing a Saturday morning l’chaim, he held us rapt with tales of bomb dismantling, marital disputes, rowdy youth and thoughts of the social protest movement.  All on his own time.
Because of my membership in several wedding-related groups in Israel, I received an invitation to a Matchmaker’s Symposium and, while this isn’t exactly my field, I made a spur-of-the-moment decision to attend.  It was scheduled to be held in the Old City in a yeshiva next to the Kotel Meravi (Western Wall), for women only.  The listed speakers were two of the most revered Jewish educators of our generation and I felt strongly that this was an opportunity I could not afford to miss.  Feeling just a tad disingenuous that I wasn’t, exactly, a matchmaker, I begged my friend Sherrie to come as well.  She is a tried, true and professional shadchanit, with several blessed unions to her credit.  Most exciting for me was the expectation of praying at the Wall at the conclusion of the evening.
The moment I entered the magnificent synagogue meeting room, it was clear that my appearance separated me from the other gals.  All of the attendees sans moi, in both the Hebrew and English tracks, wore modestly long skirts and head coverings.  And although my hair was pinned into a conservative chignon and I wore ultra-generous palazzo pants, I was totally out of uniform.  Sherrie wears a wig in the Orthodox fashion but in the style of the National Religious camp to which we both subscribe, she wore a knee-brushing jean skirt with no stockings.  Feeling as uncomfortable as I did, we donned artificial airs of confidence as we shimmied our way to the buffet table, piling enough fruit on our plates to keep us munching and busy until the lecture began.
A curious aspect of the juxtaposed deliveries was that there appeared to be some differences in the given approaches of the two speakers.  In several instances, they seemed to hold diametrically opposing views!  Were any of the erudite attendees turned off by the apparent contradictions?  Not at all.  Just as there is a plethora of interpretations of every Torah law, approaches to dating and marriage can also be different, infused with the personalities and backgrounds of those involved.  I felt humbled by the depth of empathy in the room and each passing moment revealed greater resources of achdut (brother[sister]hood) than I would have projected by my plebian self.
The ninety minutes passed in the blink of an eye and whatever discomfort I may have felt at the beginning of the event dissipated.  Sincerity abounded, and the Q & A sessions revealed collective concerns and, truthfully, anguished desires to help men and women find their mates.  Business cards were exchanged, and promises of future get-togethers were discussed, including potential conclaves for list-sharing and making marriages happen.  It was, indeed, a great honor to have been part of this gathering.
I believe that it behooves one to consider that in the context of the large globe, Israel is often difficult to find without drugstore reading glasses.  We are so small that it is truly remarkable that anything of interest happens here at all!  And yet, not a person reading this piece can doubt for a moment that we occupy a disproportionate amount of “news time”: both good and bad.
But to get a wee glimpse into the Israel I love, one merely has to imagine the “might” of one little building and multiply it by hundreds of thousands of buildings throughout this sliver of real estate; to feel the emanating love of a small group of ultra-Orthodox women who ache for the happiness of others; to glean that the power of compassion, outreach, kindness and yearning for the success of strangers is endemic and that the phrase “It’s not my business” is as treif as a ham-and-Swiss on rye in this part of the world.  That the qualities that make Israelis irascible and intolerant are the same traits that make them save lives in Bosnia, establish field hospitals in Haiti and send medical supplies to Turkey even as they side with our enemies to plan our destruction.
Israelis are different animals, and some will never “get it.”  In fact, there are days when it is even hard for me to wrap my head around the intensity of this fishbowl called “Israel.”  Nevertheless, over the past 17 years I have learned to take an occasional step back and gaze in awe at the sheer numbers of volunteers, do-gooders, yentas and angels who have taken it upon themselves to change the entire world: one heart, one soul, one friend at a time.

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