I recently exchanged emails with a friend in America. After they’d described some of the life disruptions they’d undergone due to the coronavirus eruption, I’d commented how intense it sounded to me. Their brief rejoinder was “Not as intense as in Israel.”
It took me a moment to get what they meant, then I realized (at least at that point) the government-ordered closings, restrictions, etc., were indeed far wider and deeper here in Israel than in the US. Yet, despite that, the relatively tamer news of the American upheaval struck me much more deeply.
Then I figured out why.
A line I often use to describe my life here, and life here in general, is that the way things go here, is either ‘l’maaleh min ha-teva’ (above nature, i.e. supernaturally fortuitous) or ‘l’matah min ha-teva’ (below nature – unnaturally ill-fated), but rarely in between. Rarely do things work out strictly according to ‘teva’ (nature), in a straightforward, expected, cause and effect manner.
The proverbial Oleh’s (new immigrant’s) tale of entering a government office armed with every possible piece of paper needed to get something done (you even called them to confirm it—twice) only to be told after an hour’s wait that the one and only clerk that can help you has one day off a month…today, is all too resonant with experience.
But so too is the subsequent scene of the same sullen supplicant trying to find his or her way out of the building, asking a nondescript janitorial looking man where’s the exit, only to have him (who you later discover is the department head’s uncle…or the department head himself!) whisk you through the Red Sea of red tape so fast that your mission is complete before you realize it’s begun.
Two things you learn here very quickly are that nothing’s impossible and nothing is a sure thing. Eventually, you get used to it and stop expecting things to go ‘as planned’.
That’s why I don’t get so bent out of shape to discover the government office I need to go to is suddenly closed due to the coronavirus. It could have just as easily been closed due to one of the ubiquitous ‘general strikes’, or due to the unfathomable system of staggered daily hours, or due to, as they say, ‘kacha’…nothing at all.
You want to tell me that because of the virus, the supplies at stores are erratic, they’ve run out of certain basic items?!
What else is new?
Anyone following the news here will remember that recently, for months, there was virtually no butter to be found in any supermarket or grocery here. Butter. Why? I still haven’t figured that out. Nor have I tried.
Nor do I even bat an eyelash anymore when I go into a store and am told that the featured item in their weekly sale flyer never arrived, or if I’m greeted by a locked door and a sign that says that, just for today, the hours have changed.
They closed the schools because of the virus? Kids are unexpectedly home?
Well, maybe if I were enough of a math genius to have figured out the arcane interposition of the Gregorian and Hebrew calendars that sets the schedule of school vacations here, I might get flustered by the current unexpected one.
It became a running joke years ago between me and my daughters when they would not-infrequently come bombing into the house, hours before they were due home from school, chirping the news: “Mishachreru mukdam!” (We were released early today!)
“Why?” I’d ask.
[I think this also might be part of the reason that almost no one here (outside of the professional political class and its pundits) seems to be really fazed by the fact that there hasn’t been an official government here since three elections ago…Was there ever one in the first place?]
But in America!
The land where all sale items are in stock and available – and if not, you’re offered twice as good a deal?
The place where things go as planned; where if they shoot a rocket toward the moon, on the moon it lands?
There? Disruptions? Borders, Broadway—Ballgames!? That’s big news!
People think I’m nuts when I tell them that the best thing about living in Israel is the gashmiut (material life, commerce, etc.). After reading the above description, you might think I’m nuts too.
But I’m not.
Because when things almost always go the way they’re planned, when cause reliably leads to effect, you can start to feel that you’re in control. As long as you’re smart enough to push the right buttons, you’ve got it made.
Then, when a little virus that you can’t even see, dispels that notion—you flip.
But here, where the ‘up’ button often leads down, and the ‘down’ button, up, you soon come to realize that there’s a Higher Power that’s running the show. That, like it or not, you are not the one who makes things happen or not happen.
At first that feeling can be terrifying, unnerving and vexing.
Then it gets to be okay. Resignation.
Then you start to remember that this Higher Power has given you everything that you need every day of your life. Has made trillions of things ‘go right’ in your cells and nerves and organs every one of those days to keep you alive. That things aren’t so chaotic after all.
So, now the issue is coronavirus; then it was Iran, or Iraq, or Y2K (anyone remember that one?), or whatever. So, you do what you have to. No social gatherings? No problem. I’m an introvert, anyway – it’s my dream. Wash your hands more frequently? Why not? (an OCD’s dream, perhaps?).
Whatever the new rules are, or will be, it’s still life; the same game it’s always been. No guarantees that it will come out the way I want it, but 100% guarantee that it will come out the way God wants it, which is really what I also want deep down…
Do I always manage to keep this perspective? No, not even close.
But every time I’m reminded by the small stuff that life isn’t in my hands, but in bigger and better hands than mine, I’m one degree calmer when the bigger stuff goes down.
That’s one of the invaluable lessons of life in Israel.
America; welcome to the club.