Rosh Chodesh Elul
30 Av 5767
August 14, 2007
Dear Family and Friends,
I admit it. I came to Israel wearing rose colored glasses. When someone tells me their “issues” with Israel, I just don’t get it. So, when I hear things like beggars probably make fortunes, and people complain that everything is so expensive here, and the warning I recently read that pickpockets stroll the shuk at Machene Yehuda, I just don’t agree. In fact, I just heard someone say that we should all be as persistent in our goals as the people jingling their cups. And yes, American goods and meat are very expensive, but Israeli goods and produce are reasonably priced, especially if you know where to shop. Like the shuk, where I have never had a bad experience.
A few weeks ago, I met up with 10 year aliya veteran, Star Miller and soon to be olah, Leslie Lowenstien, for an outing to one of my favorite Jerusalem excursions: the shuk. This is an amazing place on a Thursday morning. The aisles are jammed with shoppers of every stripe pulling bubbe carts, old men collecting tzedeka, suppliers yelling as they navigate pallets on wheels trying to fill up the vegetable stands as fast as customers can load up with tomatoes, peppers of every color, eggplant, cucumbers, zucchini, melons, squashes, onions, garlic, red and white potatoes, crimson beets, enormous grapes, nuts and dates, luscious figs, overflowing herbs, pillars of aromatic spices, fish, pickles, olives, cheeses...and this is just the main aisle. Jostling is the norm, and forget about shomer negiah-shoving and shuffling men and women bump together as we move in and out of minuscule booths and delight in the cheapest prices on the freshest fruits and vegies.
The three of us entered the shuk and ogled the scene, discussing what we were cooking for Shabbos. I headed for the first place that looked enticing. Within about 7 minutes I had filled up and paid the proprietor for the overflowing contents of my cart: the makings of so many salads and side dishes-recipes that would keep me on my feet in the kitchen for several hours, but I couldn’t resist. It all just looked so good. The best food starts with the best ingredients. And this farmers’ market of the holy city is the source for the best beginnings I have ever encountered.
I met Leslie just out side the booth as Star eyed some exquisite tomatoes across the aisle. Leslie commented that she couldn’t find her American Express card this morning, no matter they don’t take credit here anyway-this is cash commerce only. But, she wondered, maybe she should cancel it. Star went for the tomatoes, they had golden-yellow ones, too-when she tried to buy a few figs from a basket, the salesperson scolded her and said she’d have to take the whole basket or nothing. Forget that. We bumped down the aisle together when a tzedeka collector approached. I always set aside a few coins every day because this is inevitable. Once I have given those 6-8 shekels, I can say “no” to the others this time and perhaps catch them the next time. Its a strategy I learned from Rebbetzin Tzipporah Heller: decide what to give ahead of time and give it graciously.
So, I reached in my open pouch for the smaller purse containing my money..which was not there! I left Leslie standing with the beggar and my vegetables to weave and push my way against traffic to the stand where I had just made my purchase. I asked the proprietor if I left my purse there. He only spoke Hebrew...so I looked frantically at all the bins, and then under them. No purse. Meanwhile, Star and Leslie were going through my cart and all the bags inside. No purse.
I went back to the shopkeeper and tried again. “Did you see my wallet? I just paid here!” Did I expect that he would magically have learned even a smattering of English in 3 minutes? Thankfully, There were two sturdy Chassidic women-wearing sensible shoes, dark suits, and shaitels with little black hats on top; one waiting in line and one paying. They translated for me-well, mis-translated. The owner thought I did not have my wallet and could not pay. He told me, via the two ladies, --something that can only happen here-- that I could take whatever I wanted and come back to pay him later. Well, I guess they do take credit here.
As kind as that was, it did not help. He did not have my purse. It was beginning to dawn on me that I had been pick pocketed. But just of my money and credit cards. Not my rose colored glasses.
Star suggested I say the prayer for finding a lost object. Since none of us knew it, we called her daughter, Rivka, who had me repeat after her and then told me to give tzedeka. Ironic, isn’t it? Trying to give tzedeka was just how I discovered my loss...and of course, now I had no money. So, Star gave me 20 shekels and, since I decided to go home and call the credit card companies, bus fare, too. As I was saying good-bye to my friends, we spotted a pretty bedraggled, lethargic man shuffling past us holding an old plastic cup containing only a few agarot (less than a shekel). From behind, I dropped the 20 shekel bill in his cup. He stopped in his tracks to stare at it, then look around in disbelief. Maybe his day was beginning to go better than mine.
I found my rose colored glasses and went out into the sun. The bus stop was all downhill and the way was shady. I passed one of the Chassidic translators on the way and she wished me bracha and hatzlacha (blessing and that things should go well). The 38 bus to the Rova pulled up as soon as I got to the stand. The bus driver looked confused when I paid for my fare. He recognized me, knew I had a chofshi, monthly bus pass, and looked mildly sympathetic when I told him what happened. That was the most emotion I had ever seen from him. Can you imagine driving the same 30 minute route through some of the most congested traffic in the world for 8 hours a day? But the zechus of driving all day in Jerusalem, Ir haKodesh!
Canceling credit cards is a breeze with internet and a VOIP line. I had already spent a lot of the cash in the purse for the vegetables I needed. I did loose my chofshi for July and had to buy a punch card called cartisia. May the loss be for a kappara. The new credit cards came in the mail to our US address and kind people will bring them when they come. It was a inconvenience, and it was annoying. But I was careless. I was warned that pickpockets stroll the shuk ,and I wore a bag that was a temptation to someone so inclined.
Israel is what it is, the good and the not so good. But there is so much good. Our cup is not just half full, it overflows with the bracha that our generation is zoche, merits, to be the one in which Jews can come home to Yerushalyim. Today is Rosh Chodesh Elul and the streets overflow with Jews coming to pray at the Kotel as they begin to do tshuva in anticipation of the coming Days of Awe. K’lal Yisrael overflows with so many good people who care about each other, that we-as Rabbi Kalman Rosenbaum says-”can’t let the perfect ruin the good.”
So, come home soon. And we will meet you in Yerushalyim with a dozen rose-colored glasses. You are going to need them.
David & Renee