Hold onto your spodaks but the city of sin and sunshine has what to teach us frum folk in the Holy city. My husband and I just got back from the shortest trip to chutz l’Aretz this country has to offer. Tel Aviv is as different from Jerusalem as a sea breeze is to a permanent press machine. And it was welcome change; in many ways an aliya in culture and derech eretz.
A case in point:
I went into a shop called “The Little Prince” on King George Street looking for a second hand book. As I approached the café section toward the back, a young woman at a table looked up with a smile, but waited for me to decide whether to reveal myself. In my sheytl and stockings, I looked like the out of towner I was. I asked tentatively, “Do you work here?” to which she got up smilingly and asked “How can I help you?” She had an avant-garde haircut, an earring in someplace unexpected, freckles and looked about twenty-five. I asked, “Do you have ‘The Closing of the American Mind’?” She said, “Ah yes, Allan Bloom.” She took a solid seven minutes standing on a chair to search various bookshelves. I mentioned the cover was white with green writing. She countered pleasantly, “Well, it was published several times with different covers.” Reluctantly admitting they didn’t have it, she offered, “But I know where you can find it,” and wrote the name and address of another used book store (where I found it) on a piece of paper, urging me not to miss the entrance which was down an alley.
In experience after experience of courtesy, kindness and good business ethics such as this, I am forced to admit that in Tel Aviv merchants smile at you and wish you a good day when you don’t buy anything, and in Jerusalem, the salesgirl frowns at you when you interrupt her cellphone conversation to ask for something to buy. Tel Aviv was chock full of Jews with the signature traits of chessed, bayshanut (bashfulness) and gemilut chassadim.
In Jerusalem we feel we ought to be bringing redemption at every moment. And if some of us are engaged in less lofty pursuits, we feel ashamed and we despise the work, and those to whom we are obligated (and I am guilty too).
In Tel Aviv, people don’t believe they should be doing anything other than what they’re doing, and as a result, they give themselves wholeheartedly to their work. There is great virtue here.
In Jerusalem, we forget the example of the righteous cobbler who was praised for investing all his efforts in making exquisite shoes; in him, work was a prayer, a noble offering to G-d in the service of His creatures.
I love Jerusalem and I wouldn’t live anywhere else, principally because I feel the closest to G-d here. But if some of us are having such large families and have so many economic worries that we have no energy left to be nice, then we’re overextending ourselves. We run the risk that our many, many children, who don’t get enough of our love and attention, will exhibit behavior that will bring no credit to their Creator.
It is a Divine command to greet everyone b’saver panim yafot (with a cheerful countenance) and to do chessed, not just to our own but to our brother or sister in the street or in the marketplace. This may be the most influential way we can bring Redemption.