When our Charedi (ultra Orthodox)/Sephardi landlord agreed to make the necessary repairs in our apartment, we didn’t realize that we would be spending a good amount of time with “Muhammed” and his assistant “Hassan.” He told us that Muhammed was the best of all his workmen and that no doubt we would be pleased.
I’ll pause right here so that you and I can reflect on the individuals I just described: a Charedi/Sephardi successful businessman, two Palestinian workers and us – two Americans who made Aliyah 2 years ago – what a mix!
We first met Muhammed last week when he came to survey the various issues and give our landlord the estimate for what it would cost. He looked at everything and then said, “It’s a lot to do, but I will get it done” but cautioned that he “can’t begin until Thursday, Friday is my Shabbat and then it’s your Shabbat” and our apartment might not be good for us to be in on Shabbat. Pause again: An Arab worried that our Shabbat might not be enjoyable if the apartment is a mess.
Today he and Hasan arrived in his taxi (that’s his nighttime job 7 days a week – he boasted that he does very well!), with his tools in the trunk and a ladder strapped to the roof. They began work at 7:30am and by 3:30pm they completed what we thought was going to take 2 or 3 days. They worked quickly and quietly, while continuing to clean after each specific task. When I asked if we could give them lunch, they proudly showed us that they had already eaten on our outside balcony (we assume they knew not to bring non-Kosher food into our house) and that they had made their own Turkish coffee in a miniature pot, the smell was amazing.
Because they had to be on our roof, repairing the hole that leaked rainwater onto our ceiling, nearby security guards saw them and came to our apartment to inspect that all was well. At this point, pause again: of the 2 security guards, one was an Arab. They asked us who the workers were, how did we know to contact them, why were they on the roof, the name and phone number of our landlord, etc. They spoke to Muhammed and Hasan in Arabic for just a moment. Then the security guards went onto the roof themselves to make sure everything there was appropriate. They came back to our apartment to thank us for cooperating. After they left Muhammed said to us, “That’s good Bitachon (security).” He then asked if our building has had any problems. Worried that we might say too much, we just answered that it’s good to have security and he said “Of course.” He and Hassan didn’t seem upset that their actions were questioned and continued with their work.
A few hours later when Muhammed was pleased to tell us that they were done, he asked one favor, if we would call the landlord and tell him if we were satisfied with his work. We said that we would tell the landlord that his work was excellent. Muhammed had a huge smile and kept thanking us. Throughout the day we could hear Muhammed answering his cell phone (IPhone 6), speaking in Arabic sometimes, but mostly in Hebrew to individuals asking for him to come to their homes and fix something. At one point I said, “you must be very busy.” He replied with a huge smile, “I love to work.”
So what’s the take-away here? Routine life in Jerusalem often includes the peaceful interaction between Jews and Arabs.
This will never make headlines around the world. I’m not naïve. I still carry my pepper spray wherever I go, even though I’ve never had to use it, thank God. Maybe tonight Muhammed and Hasan told their wives that they spent a nice day of working and interacting with nice Jewish people.