Shanah tovah!

14 September 2015

In the darkness I walk home alone. A surge of beautiful happiness races up my spine, my fingers curl in delight and I let out an audible laugh as the physical bliss reaches my throat, my tongue, my lips. I have no idea where it came from, but I suddenly know what it means to radiate joy. A smile is drawn on my lips and no amount of my telling myself that I look like an idiot can wipe it off. It is midnight and I am goofily smiling on the empty streets of Tel Aviv.

Six hours before, I was being picked up to go to Rosh Hashanah at a relative’s house*. I was slightly nervous: I didn’t speak any Hebrew beyond being able to say thank you, hello (and, lest I forget, goodbye), happy New Year and, ever so helpfully, awesome. I can’t even ask where the toilet is. But the generosity and kindness of everyone in the family that I’d met so far was reassuring, so my nerves were quelled just a bit. Especially after I heard how much good food there would be. Good food can make any event bearable, if need be. So I hopped in the car and wondered what my first high holiday in Israel would be like.

I entered the house, greetings flying from every direction. I stuck out my hand until it found others and threw out a slew of nice-to-meet-yous and how-do-you-dos, hoping that someone somewhere spoke English. It turns out, a lot of them did (yippee!) and the evening was off to a beautiful start: there was laughter and wine and familial insults and prayer and so much good food and a surprise birthday cake and karaoke and good conversation and before I knew it, the evening was over and I was in another car racing its way through the pulsing streets to drop Dora and I off at her apartment.

I couldn’t understand how it was over; it felt as though it had just begun! Feeling as though I needed to walk off those three desserts that I had, I signalled to Dora that I was going to take a stroll and promptly left the apartment, still marvelling at the six hours that rushed past me as though they were mere minutes. What strikes me the most is the unquestioned acceptance of some random American into the wholly Israeli fold that I encountered tonight. I didn’t even tell most of the people why I was there – the why was not necessary. I was there. That’s what mattered.

This kind of thinking – the accept first, feed immediately after philosophy – is so unlike any kind of mind-set that I’ve ever encountered, it keeps knocking me off of my feet. But it is this kind of thought that I come into contact with every day here in Israel. It astounds and inspires me and makes me completely envious that I don’t already possess this utterly artistic way of life.

Immediately, my mind works to defend itself. It’s smarter our way, honey – we can’t accept just anyone into our fold unquestioned! What if they’re rude and don’t deserve our generosity? What if they’re just trying to get a free meal? What if, what if, what if? Followed by a trailing list of qualifiers and justifications. But that’s not how this philosophy works. It isn’t tit for tat, it doesn’t run on a trade or a barter system, there is no expectation. There is only pure generosity. Here, all of the what ifs in the world wouldn’t matter because there is no motive behind the action, no scenario that would withdraw the offer to love, no reason to say No.

If there is one thing that I want to take home as a sort of souvenir, this is it. To be able to love without reason, to be generous without thought, to think of things not as mine but as ours – this is what I want to pack up with me and take home. How convenient that it doesn’t weigh a thing.

Take that, Ryanair.

*a relative of the family I’m staying with, not my own

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