15 Kislev 5781 / Tuesday, December 01, 2020 | Torah Reading: Vayishlach
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An Empty Façade    

An Empty Façade

Synagogues in Israel are functional before the facade is finished. In western construction, it's just the opposite. What's behind the difference?


There are a lot of strange things I have seen since we moved to Israel. Among the funniest and strangest are people pushing the grocery store shopping carts. These things have a mind of their own- they’re like wild, untamed horses who want to go in any direction they wish and couldn’t care less what their owners want them to do. It’s a hysterical sight- people (myself included) pushing their carts diagonally, sideways, pulling them, do-se-do’ing with them, even chasing them down the street. I’m seriously thinking about inventing something that will keep those carts moving straight.
The other very strange thing here is the construction process. In my town, synagogues are like Starbuck’s- there’s at least one on practically every corner. The phenomenon is that every synagogue is open for business way before the exterior is completed. Many times I have wondered what was taking so long for construction to be completed on a certain synagogue, only to find out that it was up and running from a while ago. You would never know this by looking at the outside. The concrete slabs or brickwork is still just as gray as the day it was put up. There are tubes and pipes sticking out from the tops of the walls, and the surrounding outside areas are still covered in mountains of rubble. This could go on for a few years, and apparently it doesn’t seem to bother the congregants.
I was perplexed as to why they would construct a building this way, but my husband pointed out that it actually made sense. Why wait until the entire building is done in order to use it? It’s about being functional- looks are secondary.
I mulled it over, and you know what? It made sense! (G-d I hate it when he’s right!) Then I got to thinking about all of the buildings I had seen going up with the construction boom several years ago in South Florida. It seemed like it was literally overnight, and poof, up popped a building, just like those inflatable bounce houses. One after another, buildings were magically sprouting along the Miami Beach coastline as if they had been fed some Magic-Grow plant food or something. Some buildings reached 50+ stories in under a week! I’m convinced those buildings were on steroids.
When my parents’ apartment building was almost finished, we got to go upstairs to a concrete floor and plastered walls. But wow, did it look gorgeous on the outside! Inside, however, it was hollow and empty- there was nothing there.
As I walked past a synagogue today and couldn’t help but marvel at the phenomenon, I realized a fundamental difference between Israeli culture and western culture. In western culture, the focus is on outer appearances. We are drawn to people, places, animals, anything that is attractive and cute. The way someone looks is the main and arguably the only reason we might begin to speak with them when in a social setting. We may be swept off our feet by someone’s looks, but how many times do we find out that the person is shallow? That he or she has no real substance? That they just aren’t real?  
Someone can be the nicest person in the world, until you really get to know them. They might give you a great big smile every time you see them. But how many times have you found that the person you thought they were and the person they turned out to be were two completely different people? This is most obvious in the dating world- every guy is Prince Charming until Cinderella wants more- then he turns into a Royal Creep magician when he pulls the famous disappearing act when the relationship starts getting too serious for him. How about the girl who is like your second mother when you start dating? She takes care of you, she cooks for you, she might even do your laundry and straighten out your room- but once you’re hooked, it’s you who is waiting on her hand and foot!
Ahh, the good ol’ bait and switch technique.
We say, “It’s what’s inside that counts.” Sure it is. That’s gotta be the most overused, under-meant saying in the U.S.. That and, “I’m definitely not going to raise taxes!” It’s a bunch of empty talk, just like the empty people who are saying it.
I wonder what keeps us from showing our true colors. Why can’t we really say what we feel, especially when we’re upset? Why do we pretend like everything is perfect and keep smiling at that person when they’re really, really getting on our nerves? Is it really that difficult to say, “No, I don’t like what you’re doing”? We walk around trying to show the world that everything is perfect; that our lives are a never-ending fairy tale.
For what purpose?
In Israel exists the other extreme. People have ZERO tact, and they have no qualms about tellin’ it like it is! Perfect strangers can go from best friends to enemies and right back to best friends within 3 minutes! If someone is angry at you, you’re gonna get an earful and maybe a few slaps in the face. And if someone likes you, there’s nothing they wouldn’t do for you.
I think the perfect place to be is somewhere in the middle. Honesty is good, but so is tact and consideration for another person’s feelings. I don’t know if that middle ground will ever exist in either culture, but I am happy with the realness of this one. If you’re tired of the fake façade that you call reality (for lack of a better term), it’s time you seriously consider making aliyah. Connect with the reality of your spiritual self, as opposed to living for bodily pleasures, which is also another aspect of fakery. It’s so much easier to live in a society where the truth is valued, even if it hurts sometimes. You don’t have to feel like you’re walking on eggshells every time you’re about to give someone a bit of constructive criticism.
Another aspect of reality that I enjoy so much here is that most people aren’t trying to impress others or show off. We all know too well how it is in the U.S.. 99% of the people driving fancy cars can’t actually afford them! And absolutely everything is bought on credit, even coffee! Many people walk around looking like a million dollars, but they’re nearly that much in debt!
In my town, practically every car on the road is a beat-up old hunker and most women aren’t flashing their sparkling jewelry. This doesn’t mean that most people can’t afford a decent car; it just means that they use their money responsibly and don’t live a flashy lifestyle. No one’s trying to keep up with the Jones’s  (whoever they are).
That’s why I fit in so well here. I’m extremely opinionated and I’m not trying to win any popularity contests. Plus, as my mother always told me, I never was a good liar.

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