12 Kislev 5781 / Saturday, November 28, 2020 | Torah Reading: Vayeitzei
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A Different World    

A Different World

My girls came home from school and told me that all of their classmates (none of whom live in our neighbourhood) were swapping Molotov cocktail stories...


One of the most 'out there' aspects of my recent move to Jerusalem has been with my kids' school. As you might already know, I had all these plans for them to wear cute blue uniforms (and SOCKS) and to go to school in relatively quiet, Jewish, frum neighbourhoods.
G-d, in His infinite wisdom, had other plans, and the only remotely local school I could find that didn't have a strict socks policy ended up being in the Old City of Jerusalem, just a few minutes away from the holy Western Wall. Thank G-d for that school, because I really don't know where my girls would be right now.
But at the same time, going to that school has brought with it a whole bunch of new tests of my emuna.
I lived in the Judea region (what the world refers to as the West Bank) for three years and two moves ago, but it was kind of an unplanned accident, and most of the time I was there I was trying to fight off some massive paranoia about arabs breaking in to my home and doing something horrible, G-d forbid.
I breathed a big sigh of relief when I didn't have to obsess over that any more.
And now, four short years' later, my kids are going to school literally two seconds away from the Arab market in the Old City.
The first week of school was, umm, interesting. My girls came home and told me that all of their classmates (none of whom live in our neighbourhood) were swapping Molotov cocktail stories.
This one's car was getting regularly fire-bombed and stoned; that one's father had his hair burnt off when he actually got hit by a Molotov cocktail (or 'fire bottle', as my kids so cutely called it;) that one's older sister had just been bought pepper spray as a present from her parents, to keep the Arabs away…
When they started telling me all this stuff, I did what any self-respecting mother would do - and laughed hysterically for five minutes before changing the subject. I mean, what exactly am I meant to say about all this? What's the correct response?
Clearly, I ran off and did a whole bunch of praying, because I realized that the only thing standing between my girls and trouble, or standing between me, for that matter, and trouble, is G-d.
It's taken me two weeks, and a very long discussion with G-d, to let my girls go to school by themselves, but I really didn't have any choice. I literally was running myself ragged, making the 40 minute round trip three times a day, and I could see that long-term, squiring them around forever wasn't a sustainable option.
When I realized even the five year olds in their school are going through the shuk by themselves, I had to let it go.
But Arabs aren't the only, or maybe even the biggest, challenge.
What's even more disturbing to me is the number of crucifixes and other idol-worshipping paraphernalia that's literally all over the place.
The first few days of walking around the old city, my youngest kept spitting on my shoes. It took me a few times to notice, and then I asked her what she was doing - and she explained that she was spitting every time she sees a cross.
Once again, I didn't know what to say. Jews have suffered so much thanks to that particular bit of idol worship, that spitting seems a fair response. At the same time, I don't want to spark off World War III.
I had one particularly hairy moment this week, when I was taking my daughter and two 'sheltered' friends for a walk around the old city, when we came across a group of fervent Xtians, all holding fairly big wooden crosses and looking excited.
My daughter and her friends started hawking up phlegm, and I whipped around and told them to hang fire: no obvious spitting!
Afterwards, I had a whole debate with myself. Was that the right thing? After all, I'm not in a religion that promotes tolerance of idol worship, whatever waffle all the interfaith people spout. At the same time, gobbing on the pavement in front of a bunch of cross-holding 'true believers' is plain rude, which is also not a Jewish value.
Not for the first time, I got stuck.
I don't have the answers. But I can tell you that I'm in a completely different world from a few months' ago. It's challenging, scary and frequently bewildering, but at the same time, I know I'm where G-d wants me to be right now, literally in the middle of the action, in every sense of the word. And that knowledge brings me comfort.
* * *
You're welcome to visit Rivka Levy's personal website at http://www.emunaroma.com

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