Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Umbrella Gesture

Having to schlep from Givat Shmuel all the way to the American Embassy to renew my soon to be expired passport sounded unpleasant in every sense of the term, but I sucked it up and was on my way. I had to take three buses in the rain, and deal with angry Israeli bus drivers who had no patience for my many questions asking for directions in Hebrish. Another factor that contributed to the frustration of this day was that the American Embassy was only opened from 8-11am. You would think an American institution would make its hours a bit more flexible, but nope, they've unfortunately embraced the Israeli bureaucratic system. Now, with the transportation itself taking over two hours, that meant I had to wake up pretty early if I wanted to make this work, and I'm very much so not a morning person. As I always say, "good morning is an oxymoron." Once I finally made it to the embassy the time was 10:35. I thought, "Yes! 25 minutes to spare. That's plenty of time!" I approached the guard, told him why I was there, went through security, and was inside. There were many charadim in line in front of me, so that was a bit nerve wrecking considering it was 10:47 at this point. Finally, my number was called and I told the teller that I needed to renew my passport. He asked for a passport picture, which I gladly handed to him along with the rest of my paperwork. He said it's not the right size and to go across the street to take a new one. With 8 minutes to spare I ran out of the building, across the street, took the ugliest picture I've ever seen of myself (and yes, I'm taking into account the multiple hideous snapchats I've sent to some of my closest friends), and ran back. Security stopped me this time, claiming that the office was closing. I assured them that it wasn't and that I had a few minutes before the dreaded 11am struck. They let me through, and I got back to the window I was previously at. The employee expressed his aggravation about me making it back on time because he couldn't go home yet. "Come on man," I thought, "you work for three hours a day, four days a week. What's another ten minutes?!" Finally, my info was processed, all was paid for, and the passport was to be shipped and received within 8 business day (still haven't gotten it, but that's besides the point). 
My next destination was the office where one purchases a gas mask, which was on the other side of TLV. My overly paranoid mother had been nagging me to buy this life preserver for over two months, and I had had enough of her semi-justified badgering. I looked up the address on Moovit, and found that getting to this office involved another two buses and lots of walking. After waiting for twenty minutes in the rain, the correct line came and I hopped on. A few minutes passed before I realized I was going in the wrong direction. I got off, trying to maintain a positive attitude, and found the right bus stop. Luckily, the wait there was only five minutes. I got on, transferred, and found my way to the gas mask building. When I got to the office, there was an old man holding a motorcycle helmet blocking the door. He asked me what I wanted. I told him I needed to buy a gas mask. He said that this wasn't the place and there's no where to buy one. I told him to please let me in and to stop being difficult and giving me false information. He finally got out of my way, and I walked in. The secretary greeted me with a warm smile and asked what she could help me with. "Finally," I thought, "some pleasant customer service."  I told her what I was looking for, and she said they do sell them. Upon handing me the box, her smile turned into a confused pitiful expression. She asked where I was from, if I live here now, and if I knew what the product I was asking for symbolized. I responded with a proud, "Los Angeles, yes, I do live here, and I do understand." She asked me why I would move here. She said, "all the Israelis want to escape this place, and you come here? Why would you move to a place where you need a gas mask?" I was taken aback by her questions, mainly because of how blunt they were, but also because my first impression of her was that of a simple and accommodating employee... how wrong I was. I just said, "I believe very strongly in the Jewish peoples' right and need to live in this country, and that it is where we're meant to be. I feel at home here. I guess the grass is greener on the other side." She looked at me with an expression that read, "Oh, you poor stupid American. You don't know what you have gotten yourself into. Go back." I couldn't bare her lack of understanding and the discomfort stirring in my gut. I handed her the 400 shekel, took my gas mask, thanked her, and walked out. In the elevator I started crying because her remarks hit a sensitive spot in me. Even though I have heard from just about about everyone how hard financially it is to live in Israel, how ill mannered the people here are, and plenty of other disadvantages that come along with the move, none of them ever affected me the way this woman's comments had. The issue was no longer regarding how expensive it is to live here, the smell of body odor on bus rides, having to hear constant honking while on the road, or how just about every sign is misspelled. Rather, she made the issue one of life and death, and it was the first time I felt the negativity take a toll on me. It's not that I had never thought of war, terror attacks, or the likelihood of being killed by our surrounding enemies. I had just never experienced such a straightforward questioning as to why I want to be here. I understand the danger, I read the news, I know people who have been affected by terrorism. These thoughts did not go away, thus paranoia and regret began to set in.

Once I got outside and was finally on my way to my Saba's apartment off of Dizengoff, it started pouring down so hard that even the Kinneret thought it was a bit much. As I was walking, semi-crying, and trying to find directions off of Google Maps while my phone was getting drenched, a smiling young woman stopped me and asked if I wanted to walk under her umbrella with her to where I needed to go. After a day that really made me start questioning why I moved here, this angel with an umbrella reminded me that although Israelis might be difficult to deal with, at the end of your awful day, they do care. Based on my experience in Los Angeles and New York, people do not stop to help out a soaking wet and miserable stranger, rather they do everything in their power to avoid eye contact with struggling individuals. This woman's small, yet great, act of kindness gave me sudden reassurance and reminded me of what had slipped my mind throughout the earlier parts of my day.

I find that mercy and sympathy are of greater value than manners. Israelis have proven time and again that they posses such characteristics, even if they lack the latter. Further, among the many reasons why I came to Israel, one was because I felt like there were people here working to build up a country that ultimately benefits the entire Jewish people. I found no justification in sitting back and reaping the benefits of someone else's blood, sweat, and tears. So, to the woman who asked why I left my comfortable life in America, there's your answer, and trust me, only in Israel will you find people who will offer you their umbrella during a storm.

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