Living on the Front Page

by Andrea Simantov July 31, 2012


By Andrea Simantov

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. Indeed, the general tone of day-to-day life in my own building has always felt downright cornball. We’ve frequently shared Shabbat meals, housed each others’ overflow of guests, mourned together in times of grief and danced like mad at our respective simchot.

“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 Shabbat 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 on the social protest movement. All on his own time.

Last week I received an invitation to a Matchmakers Symposium. For women only, it was held in the Old City next to the Kotel Meravi (Western Wall). The listed speakers were two of the most revered Jewish educators of our generation; this was an opportunity not to be missed. My friend Sherrie, a tried and true shadchanit with several blessed unions to her credit, joined me.

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 interpretation 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 compassion in the room. Each passing moment revealed greater resources of achdut (brother/sisterhood) than I would have projected by my plebian self.

The 90 minutes passed in the blink of an eye. Sincerity abounded, and the Q and A sessions revealed collective concerns and, in some cases, anguished desires to help men and women find their mates. Business cards were exchanged and promises of future get-togethers were discussed, including tactile conclaves for list-sharing and making marriages happen. It was, indeed, a great honor to have been part of this gathering.

I believe 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 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 love that emanates from 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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