With a ground incursion into Gaza an ever-more-likely occurrence, and my son serving in Givati, I would like to offer up this story. Though perhaps it may give comfort, it is not a story of comfort. It is a story of a Volvo, of Yom Kippur, and holiness.
One of my self-defined goals of aliya was to make myself less dependent upon the (let’s be honest) non-Jewish workers of my world in the States, those natural born mechanics and craftsmen who rule with casual competence the tools and technica of our material existence. I thought it a modern but authentic A.D. Gordon goal to learn how to work on my own car, an aging but reliable Volvo station wagon, and a smart thing to do as well, living far away from town or city. So over the years, I learned how to do the rather simple things that a car owner can do: changing brake pads, oil and oil filter, and other minor adjustments and replacements. I would do this twice a year, before summer and before winter, and feel a competence that only the truly ignorant can feel.
In the fall, I would set aside one of those lovely afternoons between Yom Kippur and Sukkot for car maintenance. An auto parts store not far from my work was blessed with workers both professional and patient, and that’s where I go to buy my goods.
Several years ago, I stopped into the store on the day after Yom Kippur to get my supplies, and, as the register was unusually slow in processing my card, I listened to a conversation taking place down the counter from me. There stood a man who had followed me into the shop, and he was talking with the manager of the store, a long, skinny Temani with a perpetual smile (you know the type, I’m sure).
The customer was explaining that the previous week, he had purchased a part from the store. He had taken it home and tried to install it in his car, but it wouldn’t fit. So he tried harder, and it still wouldn’t fit. Then he tried real hard, and it still wouldn’t fit. Finally, he figured out that he had the wrong part, and he brought it back and exchanged it for the right part.
“But,” he said, looking the manager, “I didn’t tell you that I broke the part I originally bought.”
Now, this was the day after Yom Kippur. The customer wore no kipa, and it was impossible to know whether he had spent the previous day in shul, on the beach, or at home. But I knew for a fact that he had spend his Yom Kippur eating himself alive because of the broken auto part he had returned. And here he was, the very next day, admitting his sin, ready to make restitution.
And the manager, that Temani, smiling as only a Temani can smile, was saying, “Habibi, habibi! What do you think we do here? You think that after 120 years I’m taking this stuff,” indicating his entire stock in back of him, “with me to the next world? We are here to help, that’s all! And the fact that you came to offer to pay for the part,” his smile got a fraction larger, “just shows the purity of your soul!”
And I’m standing down the counter, holding my visa card, and wiping away tears.
I don’t need to tell you, this country is sometime not easy, filled with impatient (ok, obnoxious) drivers, corrupt politicians, and the ever-present specter of sending one’s own children to the army. But we should never forget why it is that we suffer these things, why it is important to defend these borders even to the point of sending one’s own into danger. The reason is that here, in Eretz Yisrael, in the State of Israel, here among our people, we have the ability to create moments of complete holiness.
Where else will you hear a discussion of the purity of one’s soul in an auto parts store?
As we suffer the fear or simple inconvenience of another tzeva adom, wondering how it will all end, anticipating another inconclusive cease-fire and worrying about our soldiers, I think of this story. I’ve had many moments of holiness like this over the years here, and I’m sure you have too. This is what we are here to create, and this is what we are here to defend.