Hot or Cold… Warm or Cool

No relationship to the weather, hot coffee or iced tea.  Only personalities !

Two weeks ago while sitting at a table in my synagogue in Rishon Lezion nibbling on cookies at the seudah shlishit snacks between the Shabbat mincha-maariv break, a man sitting opposite me, someone I had never seen before, asked me politely to pass him a bottle of water.

We began to talk and he informed me that he was originally from America and had made aliyah to Israel five years previously in order to be close to his Israeli-born grandchildren. He lived now in Tel-Aviv and was spending Shabbat with relatives in Rishon.  His Hebrew was fluent and perfect.

He told me that for 48 years he had lived in Brooklyn (“the Jerusalem of New York”, as he put it) and had worked as a school bus driver for a local Jewish day school. He noticed that I was coughing heavily and I told him I was recovering from a two week bout with pneumonia. The cough was just the remnants of it and was not contagious.

I told him how wonderfully my neighbors had taken such good care of me. Frequent knocks on the door. One neighbor  had brought me a large pot of hot vegetable soup. Another neighbor  had prepared a large vegetable and quinoa salad topped with chunks of kosher chicken. The meals lasted for the two weeks of my pneumonia with some left over.

The gentleman was astounded. “I lived in New York for 48 years in the same apartment building and never… not even once… were my wife and I ever invited even for a cup of coffee. Americans are a cold people whereas Israelis are warm”.

I smiled as he described his version of cold versus hot between the two nationalities and I had to interject. “It is not nationality. It is rather personality. There are many caring and non-caring people in all societies. Even Israel is not always completely different. We may not be hot or cold. But we can be warm or cool.”

Then I asked him how often he and/or his wife had invited their Brooklyn neighbors for a tea or coffee.

He replied that neighbors usually spoke few words, often just a “hello” or “have a nice day” when entering or exiting the elevator.

Is it really possible that in 48 years neighbors could not have found more cordial expressions to add to their vocabulary… including an occasional polite invitation?

There is a difference I have long observed between us and Americans. We Israelis generally invite guests into our homes where tables are laden with many tasty salads, fruits, pastries and choice of beverages. From many invitations by Americans in America, guests often meet their hosts in restaurants. Homes are special places for special guests. Restaurants and cafes are the American preference. Probably because the bill can be included in income tax returns.  “Conference with clients”.

In 67 years I cannot count the number of times Rahel and I had entertained guests in our home nor how many times we were invited guests into the homes of friends. One thing is for certain. It was many hundreds of times !

It has always convinced me that Israelis are warmer and more cordial hosts. And the 67 years of continued friendships, even beyond the graves, are proof of it.

And to support my opinion, I turned to the gentleman sitting opposite me and I said: “Next time you visit in Rishon, please do me the honor of being a guest for an evening of coffee and pastries at my home”. And I told him the address as he thanked me.

Who needs hot or cold or warm or cool?  We only need the treasure of “yedidut ne-emanah”… genuine friendship.

I cannot speak of other nationalities but it is one of the characteristics of being Israeli that I truly love.

About the Author
Esor Ben-Sorek is a retired professor of Hebrew, Biblical literature & history of Israel. Conversant in 8 languages: Hebrew, Yiddish, English, French, German, Spanish, Polish & Dutch. Very proud of being an Israeli citizen. A follower of Trumpeldor & Jabotinsky & Begin.
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