It’s hard to escape the news these days. The country feels like it’s on fire, the left hates the right, the right hates the left, the religious and secular feel diametrically opposed, and then there’s the Arabs and the Jews… The headlines are filled with name-calling and incitement and bad behavior. We are having trouble being remotely civil, let alone finding common ground.
As an optimist, I take comfort in the belief that this country has seen challenging times before. We have been pulling ourselves back from the brink and rising phoenix-like from the ashes since before I was born, that’s just how we roll. But when the situation gets me down, I think about my recent encounters with “the other” and I take heart.
Not long ago, I was waiting my turn in line at the nut counter. As I juggled my bags of pistachios and cashews, and commented on the rainy weather to the bewigged, long skirted woman behind me, I heard the unmistakable opening chords of Madonna’s 1986 classic, Papa Don’t Preach. I subconsciously started moving my feet and humming along to her plea for parental understanding. As Madge and I geared up for the chorus, I noticed that our duet had suddenly become a trio. The Haredi woman behind me had started bobbing her head and quietly singing along. Our eyes locked, and I realized what a fool I was to imagine that the weather was all we had in common. While it might be a stretch to say that we were rockin’ out by the time we left the store, I can honestly say that we were singing together well above a whisper and doing more than just tapping our toes. Whatever our religious beliefs and backgrounds, Madonna had transcended our differences, bringing hope and understanding to the aptly named nut counter.
Fast forward a week and I am at the mall with one of my teenage sons as he is trying to buy a new pair of jeans. He has tried on several pairs in a number of stores; boot cut, skinny, athletic fit, distressed, retro, skinny athletic retro, and other combinations. It’s been a long afternoon, and he has finally made a decision. All we have to do is pay for our purchase and then there will be nothing standing between me and my I-survived-shopping-with-my-teen-and-all-I got-was-this-delicious Rebar.
We walk to the counter to pay, but alas, there is no store employee in sight. We flag down a worker, who explains that he can’t operate the register, but he has called in his coworker from the back room and he should be with us shortly.
We wait, and are soon joined by a mother and son who are speaking to each other in Arabic. I pull up the Rebar menu on my phone and am temporarily distracted by the myriad of options and flavor adventures that await me. But minutes later we are still waiting. I catch the glance of the Arab mother, and we share a tired and frustrated moment.
My son asks if we could just leave the correct amount of cash next to the register and be on our way. I am contemplating this course of action when I notice the large, plastic anti-theft device stapled to the jeans.
Could we just gnaw that off, we wonder together? I open my mouth and lift the device closer in a show of desperation. The other mother sees me and laughs. I don’t think we share a common language, but I use international symbols of eye-rolling and foot-stomping to say “This is taking forever. Where exactly is this back room? My son better wear these retro jeans until they actually come back into fashion again to make this all worth it! And what do you think about me getting a dash of techina in my Rebar, will the taste be overpowering?”
She answers back with expressive eyes, “Oh honey, there is no back room. We are standing here in perpetuity out of love for our sons. And we both know that those jeans will get painted at a Bnei Akiva event and be unwearable in six weeks, tops. But say yes to the techina, if we ever get out of here. You won’t regret it.”
After many more minutes, shared sighs, smiles, and exaggerated pantomimes, a salesperson materialized from the fabled back room to ring up our transaction. With a heartfelt wave to my new compatriot, I grabbed the jeans and skipped off to Rebar. She was totally right about the techina.
Our oldest son is soon to be entering the Israeli Army. This marks a major transition in the life of any family, but as immigrants without prior military experience, I feel even more out of my depth than usual. I cannot help my son navigate the bureaucracy, I have no understanding of what his army service will entail, and I am bewildered by the new jargon and the endless strings of acronyms that are now part of our everyday conversation. I want to support and prepare my child, but at this juncture, I am woefully inept.
I have joined a WhatsApp group of English-speaking parents with children in the army. The group is made up of Anglos from all backgrounds. We are religious and secular, moms and dads, veteran army parents and newbies like myself. It’s a great place to ask questions and seek advice and support. Posts range from, “What’s the best way to wash my son’s uniform?” to “My daughter is graduating from her officer’s course, how much schnitzel should I bring to the celebration?”
While there are many posts to sift through, the main takeaway that I have reached after hours of diligent scrolling is that if my child is to be successful in this new era of his life, I must buy him thick, antifungal socks.
And so to protect my baby, I went on Amazon and bought the hell out of those antifungal socks! Not just your cheap, run of the mill antifungals, mind you. These socks promise to scare the bejesus out of any fungus that even thinks about gathering at my boy’s feet. This sharing community of strangers has helped me cope with what lies ahead, and I am truly grateful.
What I have learned here is that while we cannot currently discuss judicial reform without causing phoenixes to lose their wings, we are still united by so many things: we love the Material Girl and we hate preaching. We love techina and we hate that our teeth are incapable of gnawing through anti-theft devices. We love our soldiers, and we maintain a fierce and passionate hatred of fungus.
And as the political saga plays out over the next few weeks I hope we will see that this is enough to go on. Until then, my protest chant is:
More Rebar, Less Mushrooms!
More Voguing, Less Athlete’s Foot!
More Madonna, Less Fungus!
Left, right, or center, on these things we can certainly agree.