_May I sit with you?
_That looks nice! What are you drinking?
_Coffee Mocha with lot’s of whipped cream.
_ I should get one too. I’ve noticed you before; we are taking Creative Writing together. My name is Limor.
_Pleased to meet you, Limor.
_I love your outfits, we should hang out together.
_Ha-ha thanks. Sure we shall hang out.
That is how our friendship started. It is easy to bond over a cup of coffee when you are in college. We used to party, work out, go to the beach, and do girly stuff, together. Life was fun.
Shortly after that day, I found myself surrounded with a group of Israeli friends. They were the nicest people ever.
“Boi, Boi” They used to rush me, with a bright smile.
I could feel the Middle Eastern hospitality. When there was a gathering at someone’s house, they would always argue with each other, wanting to be the one to pick me from my apartment. This kind of taking care of each other exists in my culture too, so it did not take long for me, to feel much attached to the whole group.
One of those days, I was invited to a child’s birthday party who just turned two. The party was at Limor’s place. It made me happy because as a student in San Francisco, I was away from such family environments.
So as we were all playing with the baby, eating cake, enjoying, another guest arrived. A tall, very good looking guy who had the brightest smile.
What a loud man! He filled the room, as soon as he walked in. The two year old, went crazy over him. He was one of those people that everyone instantly likes. Before I knew what was going on, he was in my face asking Limor how she had not introduced him, to such a beautiful girl.
Yes, he did not bother talking to me yet, but was comfortably loud about me. I was flattered, yet puzzled.
Then he asked my name, and started wooing me. His name was Guy. He wanted me, to be his girlfriend. Although, it only had been ten minutes since we met, he was talking about our future. Naturally I did not take his words too serious. Yet he kept calling and repeating them for days to come. I saw him a few times that week, in gatherings where the girls were accompanying me. I recall Sunday noon, as I was sleeping in, someone knocking on my door. There he was, telling me that he came to serve me breakfast. What a sweet person. I had not even decided whether to date him or not. Everything was happening so fast. His mind was made though.
About a week after I met him, we were enjoying the pool of the apartment complex that he lived in. He lived with his parents. Close to sunset, he said that he was going up to his apartment to take a shower, he invited me upstairs. I was not comfortable taking a shower at his parent’s place, as I had not even met them yet, so I told him I should go home. Somehow he tricked me into going up for five minutes.
I should have known better.
His family of course had the Middle Eastern hospitality and as soon as I walked into the apartment, they did not know how to comfort me. They insisted that I stay for dinner. I tried to say no thanks, as I was feeling sticky from the pool, but they did not take no for an answer. My Mother was the same with anyone who walked into our home, so the custom was familiar.
It was not until the sun had set that I realized that this was no ordinary dinner, it was Shabbat. As they turned off the radio, the phone, lit some candles, Guy told me
_Every Friday from sunset until, sunset the next day, we do not watch TV, or listen the radio, this way the family sits together with no distraction and disputes do not last long among us.
I found that tradition admirable.
So as the prayer went on I was a little annoyed with him for having tricked me up there, not giving me the chance, to at least bring flowers for his mother. He had his traditions and in my upbringing, it was rude to go to someone’s home, empty handed or join an auspicious event without being properly dressed. After dinner I thanked his parents a million times and asked for permission to leave, yet his mother insisted I should stay over. I had not even washed after the pool, as I assumed we were going up for five minutes. So against all her insistence I said that I had to leave. She insisted that Guy should take me home; I should not go alone at that hour. It was not so late. We walked out of the apartment and I punched him lightly for not giving me a chance to meet his parents properly. As he was laughing, he said we should take the stairs down. We were at the 16th floor, so I asked him if he was claustrophobic, he said yes.
I asked him but how come we used the elevator going up, he made some more jokes and I forgot my question. Then he insisted that we should walk to my apartment. I asked him to go back home and let me take a cab. He came with me anyway but seemed distressed. As we came to my apartment, I turned on the lights and some music. It was only then that he told me that he needs to stay away from electricity until sunset the next day. I found it funny that he would not tell me this from the start and made me question his odd behavior. Of course I respected him for his beliefs. In a very childlike, innocent curiosity, I asked him
_Will it be a sin for you when I turn on the music?
I did not understand why he would not let me be exposed to electronic equipment. He told me that I should get used to this, the sooner, the better, I would adjust. I knew that response came from a good place. He was merely trying to share what he believed in. His strictness in religious practice was not causing a disturbance on my behalf, as he was a loving person the way genuinely religious people are. It was more than following some rituals.
So our conversation went from one subject to the other. I asked him if he goes often to Israel. He said that he had to go for the army. I had seen Limor’s photos with guns. It seemed interesting that girls had to go to the army as well. He told me that men serve for a longer period than women. He said,
_It is every Israeli national’s duty to defend the country!
I did not give it much thought at the time but these were the soldiers of the Israeli Army. His protective attitude towards me lasted long after our relation was over.
A few days ago, as I was walking around Taksim, in Istanbul and people were screaming hateful things against the Israeli army, I realized that they were talking about the people, who had invited me to their homes, shared their dinners and their prayers with me. The people who made me feel like part of their family, when I was thousands of miles away from mine. The Israeli army was being portrayed as some kind of evil force. I cannot believe that Turkey and Israel are at each other’s throat.
In any given nation, it is not the people, who are evil.
It is the nature of war that makes anyone and everyone evil, as it is based on the principle of kill or be killed. It does not leave much room for love and compassion.
There are kind people everywhere in the world. Somehow we are provoked to hate each other over political disputes. I’ve always believed that God did not create these differences but people did. Love must take over at some point and overcome all the disputes in the world. Among individuals love is everywhere, but once people start gathering under umbrellas’ of nation, religion, ethnic group, race or social status, clashes start.
The unifying force should not be any of the above mentioned things but love itself.
So for every moment of love that we are able to savior ……..Toda Raba!