Suddenly Sabra: Little Miss Left Wing

You've got to draw the line somewhere. And I draw mine at Jews for Jesus.

jesus 88 (photo credit: )
jesus 88
(photo credit: )
Boaz and I are weekly participants in an oh-so-Tel-Avivi ritual - Friday afternoon humous. After spending the morning rushing around to run the errands that have been neglected throughout the week, we kick off Shabbat by taking a seat at our favorite humous joint - a tiny, always packed place in the city center. The crowd is part of the pleasure, of course. That we have to wait for a table and then bump elbows as we eat adds to the charm. But one recent Friday, I found myself less than charmed by my neighbors - Jews for Jesus. There they were. Flanked in blue shirts that were written in Hebrew: Jesus = salvation. I first noticed them when the waiter gestured to the empty table waiting for us. Unflappable Boaz sat down on the bench without hesitation. I slid in next to him with a grumble. "What's wrong?" Boaz asked me, in Hebrew. "Look," I said, pointing. "Don't point," he hissed. "I don't care if they see me. They don't belong here." I didn't need a mirror to know that my face was flushed. I could feel the heat in my chest, my throat, my cheeks - a suppressed shout rising up from my lungs. "What's the big deal? At least they're not Arab," Boaz said. I was already too upset to launch into my usual "you're a racist" tirade. "I would much, much rather sit next to Christian - or Muslim - Arabs than Jews for Jesus," I said. "At least the Arabs know better than to try to get me to convert." "Yeah, but the Jews for Jesus don't blow themselves up," Boaz said. "They might as well. We'd be better off without them." I was shocked by my own words. Who is this vitriolic person? After all, aren't I Little Miss Left Wing? Little Miss Coexistence? Little Miss Let's-Give-the-Filipinos-Citizenship? Little Miss We-Don't-Need-a-Jewish-Majority-to-Survive? But you've got to draw the line somewhere. And I draw mine at Jews for Jesus. It was a line I didn't draw, couldn't draw, growing up in the Deep South, as a Jew in a sea of Bible-thumping, Sunday-school-going, salvation-seeking Christians. There, it seemed, everyone proselytized in ways small and large. On many occasions my best friend, a Southern Baptist, told me out of sincere concern for my mortal soul that if I didn't accept Jesus as my "lord and savior" I was going to hell. "My grandpa told me to tell you that Jesus was a good Jewish boy," I retorted each time, sounding more like a five-year-old than the 20-something-year-old I was at the time. I might as well have stuck my tongue out and chanted: Nyah nyah nyah. Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me. But they can. And the words on the blue shirts hurt me. In the South it bothered me less because it was everywhere, it was part of the landscape, and I took this persecution, however small, for granted. I learned to live with it, even understand it - some of the people who sought to convert me were doing it out of sincere love and compassion. But it was something I expected to be free of here in Israel. Imagine my disappointment, then, when I moved to Tel Aviv and noticed "Jesus" scrawled in crayon, written from right to left, on the sides of buildings all over the city. As if that weren't enough, there was the occasional piece of graffiti. A black-spray painted cross with the word "Salvation" below it stenciled on walls and sidewalks. The first time I saw it, I was in a taxi. I wanted to fly out the window and wipe it off the wall with my bare hand, cover it with my own blood if I had to. It was rage - all those years of quietly dismissing other people's imploring me to convert, indignation and anger suddenly let free. Though I fumed at our neighboring table and thoughts like Get out of here! and Leave us alone! streamed through my head, I ate my humous calmly. As the blue shirts got up to leave, one of them bumped our table. "I'm sorry," he said in American-accented English. In that moment I had a choice. I could tell him it's not OK. I could boil over. I could let him know where he and the rest of his blue-shirted buddies could take their Jesus and their salvation. I could push my agenda on to him - just as he is seeking to do in my country. An eye for an eye. Or I could turn the other cheek, as I had done for so many years. But this time pardoning his trespass would be different. In the South, I didn't have a choice. I had to accept proselytizing and the feelings of persecution and shame it created. Now I could forgive him - or even ignore him altogether - out of choice. In freedom. "No worries," I said. And instead of a shout emerging from my lungs, I sighed in relief. The writer, who immigrated in April 2008, is writing a regular column on her wet-behind-the-ears experiences here.