Yesterday evening, I met a man named Abbas whom I’m sure, if given the chance, would help a great many people.
No, the fellow wasn’t Mahmoud Abbas, though my contact has a lot more to offer from a political perspective, in my humble opinion, than the current Palestinian president. My Abbas is from a small village in Pakistan that had no name—only a number, as if it was insignificant except for its population. He has lived in the United States for 16 years, was previously in Las Vegas, then left for New York. He drives a cab, took me all the way up to my neighborhood in Washington Heights. He spoke of prayer. He spoke of food.
He also dropped the f-bomb a lot—a predilection I gathered was due to the way he learned English, which he said was via Brooklyn. No better way to do so, in my humble opinion. No better way.
I’m bringing Abbas up for good reason. We had a delightful conversation, which ranged from his descriptions of life in Islamabad—a very “green” city, he noted with nostalgia—to cooking whole goats in a tandoor … something we both discussed with lip-smacking determination. Abbas is Muslim. I am Jewish. He talked about eating halal meats and the prayers he says before slaughtering the animals he is about to consume. He informed me that he is allowed to eat kosher fare if halal foodstuffs aren’t available. I mentioned that it made a lot of sense for people to come to the table over a meal to negotiate rather than do it via proxies or hearsay. I was referring, of course, to Israeli-Palestinian relations, and Abbas understood that. He seemed to think it was a good idea, too.
Initially, Abbas told me to get in the middle of the cab in order to ensure that I got the most out of the air conditioning on this very hot day in NYC. I obliged, and he was right—it was much cooler there. That’s how we started on our dialogue, a dialogue that I feel could have worked wonders in Israel and beyond. It was a dialogue that made me feel that things could work, that there was hope for peace after all. Because if you can have a great chat with a taxi driver while he is navigating the infernal streets of Manhattan, you can have a great chat with anyone. And that’s my position.
Abbas, from the village with only a number, and I shook hands at the end of our ride. He expressed the desire to pick me up in his cab again in the future. I shared that sentiment.
Stuff it, anti-Semites and Islamophobes. This is the reality of the situation on the ground. People who come from different backgrounds yet are, as Abbas said, “cousins.” People who can talk about anything and have life in common. People who are more qualified to negotiate than those in their current political roles because they don’t hate, because they’re optimistic, because they can speak from a grass-roots level, because they can bring up elements of their own cultures and express their feelings and maybe not come to a resolution but know that they wouldn’t be against seeing each other again—that if that time happened, they would welcome it. Folks who hate Jews because they are Jews and Muslims because they are Muslim don’t know what the hell they are thinking. They are out of their heads. They are, quite plainly, wrong.
I don’t think I’m oversimplifying the situation between Israelis and Palestinians. The conversation I had with Abbas is what should really happen. People putting aside their differences. People dining together and talking about their needs. Not sitting next to their respective flags and arguing about what must be. Discussing how things must be is better. And getting to that point requires friendliness, an easygoing nature and a willingness to compromise.
All of which Abbas has.
I’m not nominating Abbas for a political position; rather, I think he’s quite happy where is. Yet I wonder if his sentiments reflect the importance of that little village with just a number, not a name, in our lives and in the history of our country—for history is made not by those who dominate the headlines, but by those who strive to make others happy. Abbas does exactly that. He’s definitely got something to offer.
If only more individuals emulated him, we would have more lasting peace. And that wouldn’t be something we’d have to fuhgeddabout, in the parlance of his own borough.
From a numbered village to Brooklyn to Washington Heights, our needs are all the same. So it is from Muslim to Jewish, and one day we all will realize it.
Sometime, hopefully, soon. Someday—one day—soon.