11 Cheshvan 5781 / Thursday, October 29, 2020 | Torah Reading: Lech Lecha
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All Relative and All Right    

All Relative and All Right

Even more than coming home with a new perspective, I came home with a deeper understanding that, among my own people, everything I have is a gift...


In order to fly to Australia and back as cheaply as possible, my husband and I purchased tickets that included a stopover in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia.


We had the option of staying at the Beacon Hotel for the ten hours we were there and we took it. A van picked us up at the airport and drove for twenty minutes through the city. It was early morning and the roads were filled with cars and buses. My husband made conversation with another passenger while I stared out the window at the passing scenery. Now I am sure that some parts of Ethiopia must be beautiful but nothing I saw that entire day came remotely close to a pleasing sight.


When we got to the hotel I was eager to find a market where I could buy some interesting souvenirs. My husband and I set out and the first thing we saw was a large hump-backed cow calmly eating out of a big garbage can.


In Israel we have cats that do that, so to me, a cow seemed comical and I insisted that Don take a picture. Immediately afterwards a toothless woman came over and smiling, started stroking my husband's arm. He gripped his phone tightly while I gently removed her hand. We had been warned a few times about pickpockets. As we backed away from her I noticed that people were watching us and I couldn't tell if it was because we were noticeably Jewish, white, tourists, or all three. I began to feel distinctly uncomfortable. As we continued walking carefully down the broken sidewalks, sick and maimed beggars sat on torn blankets holding up rusty cans for coins. Men and young boys scrubbed used shoes and placed them on pieces of cardboard to sell to passersby.


An old woman piled several small potatoes on a rag along with some hot green peppers and sat down next to them to wait for customers. The streets were crowded and noisy but to me it seemed as if everyone was moving silently in slow motion. People stared as we made our way through the city but no one smiled or said hello.


Tin shacks and broken cars filled the field behind the hotel. Many people walked with umbrellas to ward off the sun. After a few more minutes of “touring” I insisted we return to the hotel. There was no market and there were no souvenirs.


We spent the remainder of the day in our room, resting and watching the news on a big TV. At noon we got a call inviting us to the hotel lunch and wandered down to see if there might be some fresh fruit on the menu. There wasn't. There wasn't anything we could eat but we weren't surprised. We had sandwiches in my carry-on and so we thanked the woman who was serving the food and turned to go. The woman became concerned and kept repeating, “No money, no money...” She thought we didn't understand it was a complimentary meal. We tried unsuccessfully to explain that we ate only kosher food but she remained completely mystified.


I was relieved when the van arrived to take us back to the airport. During the ride we sat quietly taking in the sight of tiny shops selling cheap clothing and plastic house-ware. We drove past what looked like an old apartment building that had a big sign in the front. It said Addis Ababa Hospital.


We checked into the airport which was undergoing renovations and made our way to the gate. There was no air-conditioning and we sat sweating on hard plastic chairs.


We boarded Ethiopian Airlines back to Israel. The plane was nice and big and the stewardesses were great although they mistakenly opened our kosher meal in order to heat it. They completely removed the wrappers so my husband politely declined the food. We didn't bother trying to explain and I could see the stewardess's annoyance after they had gone to the trouble of serving us first.


I thought a lot on the flight home (the video/music wasn't working) and I felt certain Hashem had sent me on this detour for a reason.


Leaving Australia after a three week vacation wasn't easy. Not only was it difficult to say good-bye to my son and his family but seeing the wealth and beauty there (the numerous leafy trees, nearby ponds and parks) always arouses my evil inclination. After spending a few weeks in “proper” houses with carpeting and walk-in closets, big bay windows and grassy gardens my apartment in Israel seems small and plain. Where I live there is constant construction, which is a good thing but produces endless amounts of dust that blows in through the screens. Due to the hundreds of young children playing outside, the sidewalks are forever littered with food wrappers and forgotten items, a sight you would never see along the streets of Melbourne. In Israel there are no leisurely Sundays to spend making family barbecues in the backyard (what backyard?)


Spending those few hours in Ethiopia brought me back to myself. The poverty I witnessed was both painful and disturbing. It hurt me to see little children helping their mothers to beg. Walking around Addis Ababa had also made me self-conscious. There we were; a white, Jewish couple who could afford to travel. It was clear that we did not belong. My husband told me later that someone had hissed “Arafat!” to him as we passed by.


Many hours later we arrived in Ramat Beit Shemesh and I looked around in appreciation. Our apartment building is made of solid Jerusalem stone and there are a few shady trees outside our kitchen window. Compared to an Australian mansion, no great shakes; compared to a tin shack in Ethiopia, paradise.


But even more than coming home with a new perspective, I came home with a deeper understanding that, among my own people, in a land that feels like personal property, everything I have is a gift. And I have the gift of everything.



* * *

Rebbitzen Yehudit Channen began her career as a Crisis Intervention Counselor in Silver Spring, Md. in the seventies. After moving to Israel, she worked as a marital mediator and social skills instructor for kids. Following the death of a son, Rebbitzen Channen became a certified bereavement counselor and worked with young mothers who had suffered loss. Most recently she worked at the Melabev Center for the memory-impaired, as an activity director and group facilitator for families coping with Dementia.  The Rebbitzen has written for numerous magazines and newspapers and recently led an interactive creative writing course called Connective Writing. Yehudit Channen is the wife of Rabbi Don Channen, Rosh Yeshiva of Keter HaTorah.  They are blessed to have nine children and many grandchildren and live in Ramat Beit Shemesh. Today, Rebbitzen Yehudit Channen is a certified Emuna Therapist for Breslev Israel.

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