It was November, 2011, a few months after we made aliyah ,and I had just finished three grueling hours of teaching (or trying to teach) in Hebrew. I was acutely aware that I used to be able to open my mouth and express myself easily, that in English the words flowed freely, that I could sound more sophisticated than a third grader and that the sight of someone raising their hand (with a question I wasn’t sure I would understand) didn’t always send me into a panic. But now, struggling to convey ideas in a foreign language had taken every ounce of energy I had.
I entered the big and busy local supermarket at 8 p.m., feeling exhausted and knowing that it would take me at least an hour to to navigate these still new aisles to find what I needed. After I finished, with a cart full to the top, I got on the long line to await my turn to check out.
As the woman in front of me was wrapping up, I left a significant space on the conveyer belt and then began to unload my cart. At that moment, the cashier turned to me and in the most condescending, obnoxious tone said:
“Selicha, mah at osah?” — “Excuse me, but what do you think you are doing???”
“Umm…unloading my cart?” I answered in broken Hebrew, completely confused by what she was asking and implying.
“Well, how am I supposed to know now where her products end and yours begin?” she exploded at me, with real anger and annoyance.
And that was it. I completely lost it. The floodgates opened, and there was no holding back. The woman didn’t know what hit her.
“You know,” I sobbed, “I just made aliyah a few months ago, and in America we had these divider sticks in our supermarkets at the checkout counter, and you put them down between your food and the food of the person before you, and everything was good, okay? Why can’t you just have those here?”
Until that moment, I never knew how much those dividers meant to me. A simple item that just made life easier. Something that I have never taken for granted again. When I travel to America and check out from a store, I proudly put the divider down with a huge smile on my face, and when I occasionally see one here in Israel, I am overwhelmed with gratitude that I can unload my items and set down clear boundaries, eliminating all risk of someone possibly mistaking my items as belonging to the customer ahead in line.
Dayyenu — just a little supermarket divider stick is sometimes enough to make my day. When I recall this experience, I try to feel some gratitude to this cashier for opening my eyes and allowing me to take note of something I just never really paid attention to or previously thought to value.
There are so many givens in our lives, big and little things, that we fail to appreciate until they are taken away from us.
Like our backs, for example.
A few days ago, I was exercising, and all was going well until I jumped down to the floor… and did not pop right back up. My back went out. And from one second to the next, I could no longer stand straight, walk normally, sit down, or get out of bed easily in the morning. The pain is awful, but nothing compared to how pathetic I feel asking my 7-year-old daughter to help me put on my socks.
Until now, I rarely stopped to appreciate how simple it usually is to do the most basic things in life. Get up, get dressed, walk down the stairs, get my kids out, go to work.
Unable to sleep from pain, I sat down in front of my computer at 4:30 a.m. with these thoughts on my mind.
If my back muscles decide to come back from their little vacation — Dayyenu. That would be enough right now to make me very happy.
This corona year has been full of “Dayyenu” moments. Moments when I have thought:
If only I could be alone, all alone, in my house for five minutes — FIVE MINUTES! — that would be enough.
If only the kitchen sink wasn’t constantly refilling with dirty dishes — that would be enough.
If only we could go out on a real date to a local café — that would be enough.
If only I wasn’t teaching from inside a plastic box — that would be enough.
If only we could restock the junky bars of American cheese that my husband continues to import for us since we made aliyah — that would be enough.
And the more serious Dayyenu thoughts:
If only we could gather like we used to, dance like we used to, pray together like we used to, host company like we used to, touch and hug like we used to — that would be enough.
But thank God we are healthy, right?
If we can count ourselves among those who are healthy, then we have most likely said this line countless times this year. We know that we are fortunate and blessed, and we have learned not to take that for granted. So many have fallen prey to COVID19, suffering through illness, debilitating long-term effects, or worse. And others have lost close family members and friends.
So, thank God we are healthy. And thank God we can still smell and taste and breathe and live life fully.
Dayyenu! Really, this alone should always be enough.
But we are human, and it is normal to vacillate between moments of absolute, mindful gratitude and moments of frustration and annoyance.
We can deeply appreciate the fact that we are all healthy… and still really miss our bars of American cheese. And that is okay. It doesn’t make us any less grateful for our health.
If anything, this year has taught us to be grateful for all the little pleasures of life we maybe once took for granted. We have been forced to take note of the typical daily things we so long for that used to make us happy to get up in the morning, and at the same time, we have learned to look for and to find new gems and sources of happiness in our lives.
With Pesach quickly approaching, and the world slowly, slowly, regaining just a little bit of normalcy, I know that I have a new appreciation for the underlying message of that beloved seder song and the ability to be mindful and thankful for every small component of our day.
So, bring it on. We are ready for another Pesach. Corona and all.