The people in the street

"In Israel we all express our identity differently, by the way we dress and the words we speak, but in the end it’s the same identity."

October 6, 2018 15:22
3 minute read.
‘STAND ON the corner of any Jerusalem street and in the space of 10 minutes, you can hear several la

‘STAND ON the corner of any Jerusalem street and in the space of 10 minutes, you can hear several languages.’. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)


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I read a lovely Indian quotation today: “I met 100 people going to Delhi. And every one of them was my brother.” I often feel that way in Israel. In the 47 years I have lived here, I have met saints and sinners, writers and tramps, academics and illiterates, business tycoons and housewives. But by the very fact of their pulling up roots, leaving behind their birthplaces and cultures, here they become ordinary people leading extraordinary lives.

I once had a friend, sadly passed on, who used to say that he stood on the corner and watched all the poems walk by.

Israel makes demands on us. We don’t just drift along acquiring more and more material possessions – a bigger home, a more luxurious car, a wardrobe of designer clothing. No matter how rich or poor we may be, when our children turn 18, they are expected to serve their country, either in the IDF or doing National Service. Most of us, when we get our wages, find there is too much month left over after the money runs out. The six-day working week doesn’t leave much time for leisure, or keeping up with friends and family scattered around the country. And almost everyone I know is a mother, father, grandparent, sister, brother, wife or daughter of a soldier, and there is always the fear for their safety, or of terrorist attacks that can occur anywhere, changing our lives forever.

Yet there is a resilience here. On the whole, we are optimists. It is almost a cliché that if you live in Israel and don’t believe in miracles, then you are not a realist. For we live on miracles and expect them – the Entebbe rescue and the Six Day War were just two examples.

Stand on the corner of any Jerusalem street, and in the space of 10 minutes you can hear several languages. You can watch an old lady pass by in the faded costume of her lost community. There might be a monk in a long habit; a soldier whose face is etched in weariness; a teenager with many earrings and tattoos; tourists with cameras slung around their necks; a housewife trundling a shopping cart; a haredi Jew with long peyot; a Filipino caregiver; and everywhere people talking on their mobile phones. A gregarious lot contributing to the rich mosaic of our society. Each one unique. And we are a part of it.

They may be strangers, but they won’t hesitate to speak to you – on a bus, waiting in a queue, sitting at your health fund. They may ask you where you bought your shoes, where do you work, how much do you earn, and why haven’t you dressed your child warmly enough. One big family. It’s not just idle curiosity – they are really interested. And they care.

That is what’s so endearing about living in Israel. We all express our identity differently, by the way we dress and the words we speak, but in the end it’s the same identity. We are bonded by birth, by choice or by belief, and it creates a link – invisible perhaps; but when needed, we will help each other. It’s an unspoken commitment. How lucky we are!

The people in the street...
Watch their passing parade –
It has a certain melody
Almost a serenade.
Look at all the faces
Each one is quite unique –
Some are smiling, some are sad,
Some proud and some are meek.
White-haired are the elderly,
The young brunette or blonde –
Their names are quite unknown to me
And yet I feel a bond.
They all pass by my window,
It makes me feel complete
To know that I am one with them...
The people on the street.

The writer is the author of 14 books. Her latest novel is Searching for Susan.

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