For most people, we live our lives within circles. We travel from our homes to our work, an occasional night out and perhaps, if we are lucky, once or twice a year, we break out of the circle and fly off or drive off somewhere exciting for a few weeks. And then we return to our circles and remember the last vacation or dream of the next.
A few among us break this pattern and spend part of their lives flying very often as part of their jobs. As I organized this year's MEGAComm (www.megacomm.org), I met two of these men. One came from India, one came from Canada. In addition to an amazing day of sessions and all, I had a chance to take each around a bit.
It is quite an experience to see your country, your world, through another's eyes. On the first day, I took our guest from New Delhi around the walls of the Old City, parked on Mt. Zion, and walked with him through the Jewish Quarter and a bit of the Arab shuk (open market/bazaar). On the way down to the Kotel, the Western Wall, a woman stopped us.
She had a cup of hot liquid (soup, I guess) in her hand. I thought she was asking for money, as often happens there. Usually, I give a few coins, here and there. But this time, I realized that I had left the car with only my keys and cellular phone. I began to apologize when she said she didn't want money.
She then handed me the soup and said, "could you give this to Shoshana?"
Almost as a reflex, I took the hot soup but looked at her in confusion, "who is Shoshana?"
"She's sitting at the bottom on the steps, on the way to the Kotel," she answered.
Now, I've never met Shoshana and it all seemed a bit strange. On the other hand, why not? So, I took the soup and set off with my guest, explaining about various sites in the Old City while carrying a warm cup of soup.
After a few minutes of walking, I came to the top of the many steps that lead down to the plaza where the Kotel stands. I've never counted the steps...but there are dozens of them - at a guess, I would say at least 50-60. I had planned to go about half way down where the view is incredible. Apparently, God and Shoshana's friend had other plans. So, I gave my quick explanation, aware the soup would get cold.
Then I glanced down the steps - and found not one woman, but two, sitting on the side in chairs hoping people would give them money. Which was Shoshana?
I approached the first, "Are you Shoshana?" I asked her and she said she was not.
I approached the second, already sure this was the intended recipient. She already was looking at the soup, "Shoshana?" I asked and she confirmed that she was, gratefully took the soup, and thanked me - even gave me a blessing.
I think my guest from India was wondering in what kind of society does a stranger had you a cup of soup? In what world do you then go searching to deliver it?
We walked down to the Kotel plaza; I explained about how this was retaining wall for our ancient Temples. I pointed to the levels of stone and explained about how the land on the other side is so much higher that a century or two ago, Arabs would throw garbage down on the Jewish worshipers and so a generous man from Europe donated funds to add the smaller stones and raise the level of the Wall.
I explained about how we turn to this Wall, the Western Wall of the Temple Mount, three times a day in our prayers and finally we began to climb back up those 60 or so stairs. Around 30 stairs up, a man stopped us, took my guest's hand and as he began blessing him in rapid fire Hebrew (not a word of which could my friend understand), the man tied a red string around his wrist. Then he turned to me, carefully tying a string around my wrist as well.
As we left the man behind, I began to explain the red string, the warding off evil, the meaning of the blessings. You should have a long life; you should be healthy and be granted parnasa (livelihood), and finally, you should have many children.
"You can't ask for more than that," said my guest.
We continued to talk as we exited Zion Gate, leaving the Old City walls behind us. And then, as we were talking and walking, a woman approached from the other direction. She was trying to fasten a bracelet. She looked up and said, "Could you help me? My mother-in-law gave this to me. Just push it until you hear the click."
And so I helped her with the bracelet and told her that I didn't hear a click at all. Perhaps it is broken and she should be careful.
By now, I was thinking that my guest must think us truly mad. What kind of person holds out his arm and asks a complete stranger to help her fasten her jewelry? No fear that the other person will grab it and run? No worries other than needing help?
In what world do people act this way? Stop to deliver soup to a stranger; give a blessing; ask someone to fix your bracelet...or fix someone's bracelet. In what world? In my world, of course. In Israel, where we really are one family, one people. Israel.