I think the beauty of Israel gets lost in the vast pool of international media. Bombs, sirens, rocket fire, Palestinian statehood, Israeli settlement building, human rights debates and sleazy politicians distract us from a simple truth: there is beauty here. Be it a simple invitation to Shabbat dinner, or a night time walk with friends; a smile from a child who just learned new words in English, or a late night visit from people in our neighborhood, there is beauty in Israel.
The extent of this beauty was visible and apparent to me at an unexpected time. Last week, a woman died in her apartment—a mother of seven. Stories flew around as to what happened. I heard she fell and hit her head. Regardless of the reason, what I saw occur in the week that followed was fascinating and made me feel like, “Wow. I live in a real community of people.” Community. “Common unity” as our tour guide, Jeremy, would say.
The entire week, people were downstairs under Shapira’s very own building number nine praying, consoling and comforting one another. From what I witnessed, no one was neglected in this process. Kids still made their way to school, people attended wedding-related ceremonies at the community center, and still there was a constant presence to tend to the family who just lost a mother. What will happen to her kids? After seeing the support in her absence, I do not fear for her children’s well being. It takes a village to raise a child. In this community, this old phrase rings true.
Back home in the US, in my experience, when someone dies there is grief and sadness, but there is also a tinge of discomfort that seems to slide into the mix of emotions. Discomfort in acknowledging death’s foothold in the world, and also discomfort in terms of how to address the issue when talking to those directly affected. Discomfort, I believe, creates distance. We distance ourselves from what discomforts us, and in turn, this sometimes can create distance between people. This is not common unity. Here in Shapira, I felt that people came closer together than I had seen up until that point. Everyone on the block knew what happened, and everyone paid their respects. It’s a big family here, and it’s beautiful.
Tonight there is a henna ceremony happening at the community center. A friend of mine came by to see if I want to go, and when I finish this blog post, I’ll be joining in the festivities and the fun and the laughter. Lieberman might be being indicted for some political scandal, construction in East Jerusalem might be underway, and maybe Hamas is planning its next big fireworks show. So, the next time you open that newspaper and you read some headline about some terrible, catastrophic, depressing political explosion, just remember: down on the ground in this small place called Shapira, beautiful things are happening, and they don’t talk about this in the news.