Home June 2012 Getting To Know You

Getting To Know You

In a class that had previously been attended by only five women, she was easy to spot as the “new girl.”  Her tight fitting hijab was beautifully patterned in a floral design of purple, grey and black, covering every part of her head except for her face.  Her coal-covered eyes remained glued to the instructor who was deep into an explanation of the complexities of powder vs. cream eye shadows.
Something in the way she stared straight ahead made me guess that the language of the cosmetics class was difficult for her and I whispered in Hebrew, “Can you understand?” and she whispered back in unaccented English, “English is easier for me.”  I stifled a laugh and told her, “I’ll translate anything you don’t get.”  It felt good to know that I wasn’t the only one who was struggling in this room filled with sabras – native-born Israelis.  This is how 21-year-old Bayan became my “partner” for the practical segment, and we worked on one another’s faces for the remainder of the advanced seminar.
American-born, she had come to Israel from California at the age of five with her parents and six older siblings. For the first time since beginning the course, I could talk to someone who understood my unmistaken American personality.  We reacted similarly to the funny moments and developed deeper camaraderie as we realized that our styles were diametrically different from the other women in the class, all of whom are of North African origin.  For the first time, I didn’t feel like the only “outsider.”
She was surprised to discover that I’m religious and older than her mother.  “I never thought that someone religious would be nice to me.”  More than finding that statement a little baffling, it offered me a moment of reflection.  In turn, I was intrigued that she is enrolled in Hebrew University, studying to be a physician’s assistant and is, with limits, allowed to go on dates.   Her face mirrored mine as we both considered the newfound information.
Our effortless friendship was developing smoothly until she told me that her brother lives in Holland and is an attorney for the ICC: the International Criminal Court.  I recalled incidents where Palestinians had pleaded their cases for statehood and cited “acts of aggression” when bringing cases against Israel to the aforementioned institution.  I asked her if she was going to remain for the second semester track of “Up-Dos and Dressy Hairstyling.”
“Probably.  If I win my case against the government.  The creeps are trying to kick me out of the country, but they don’t know what they’re in for.  My parents both have Israeli identity cards, and they won’t know what hit them if they try to deport me.”
Suddenly I couldn’t ask more questions.  I thought, “What does this seemingly sweet girl have on her record to make her a target of the government?”  The mood was broken.  I’m the mother of a sleep-deprived soldier guarding towns and agricultural villages on Israel’s northern border; I am an unbending Zionist who will not apologize for coming home and claiming that this same home is ours.  All ours.  This encounter was causing me some angst.
Waving goodbye, I shouted, “See you next week, Bayan.  Good luck.”  I tried to sound sincere, but I didn’t really mean it.
“Bye, Andrea.  It’s great to have a friend in class.  See you!”
My legs were aching, but I still walked home rather than take the bus.  An unsettled feeling accompanied me as I entered a small local apothecary shop that I’d passed often over the years but had never used.
“Do you have Advil?” I asked.  The lovely, older blond woman behind the counter removed a fresh box from behind the register.  Before I could open my wallet, she handed me a glass of water.
“I’ve never seen you before.  Do you live in the neighborhood?”  Her Hebrew had the precise and polished style of an upper-class Ashkenazi Israeli, and I suddenly felt awkward and tongue-tied.  “I’ve been here for 17 years but never frequented your shop.  It’s lovely.”
Over the next half hour we discovered that we had much in common.  She was fascinated by olim – new immigrants – who left their countries of origin to begin a frequently-difficult life in Israel.  A seventh-generation Jerusalemite, Ruti had never spoken in depth with an American other than to discuss transferring prescriptions or whether or not Crest White Strips were damaging to tooth-enamel.  For the second time that day I realized that I, too, had not made a true friend with anyone from outside of my English-speaking community.  I have plenty of Israeli acquaintances, but no one I would meet for coffee.
I paid for the medication and promised to visit again next Tuesday on my weekly walk back home from beauty school.
“Lihitraot!  Good bye!” she called to me, as I began the much shorter walk home, feeling more at ease than I’d been an hour earlier.
Smiling, I waved back and said, “I’ll bring the coffee.”
That same evening, I headed out to address a group of senior citizens with a talk called, Am I Too Old to Learn New Things? Expanding Our Horizons!  As I sat in my car reviewing my notes for a few minutes, it dawned on me that I was a classic recipient for the message I wished to impart.  Entering the room I met forty new friends who greeted me with open arms and, during the question-and-answer period, stories of their own miraculous journeys.  Each one of these delightful individuals was enjoying every minute of life making new friends, embracing new challenges and learning from people whom, during earlier periods of their lives, they would never have encountered.
Later that night as I sipped a glass of wine with my husband on the patio, I pondered on the closing day and felt a wave of gratitude.  It was clear to me that some encounters with our fellow humans can alter iron-clad beliefs and perceptions if we allow new ideas, new experiences and new people into our carefully-protected heart-space.

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