Seeing the Invisible

I walk past them every Tuesday on my way to lectures in downtown Herzliya. They are the invisible. I don’t really see them, but they are there. I smell the smoke of their cigarettes. I hear them speaking, but don’t understand what they are saying. Some are just looking at their phones, while others are watching the passing cars, hoping one will stop near them.

They are all there for the same reason, standing, sitting on railings or squatting on the sidewalk. Without exception, they are Arabs or Africans. They are all outside a huge store that sells construction material. This is the Herzliya labor market. They are all waiting for someone to give them a job for the day; maybe painting, plastering, or just carrying heavy loads. Some are more aggressive, approaching every car that stops in the hope of being hired for the day.

But suddenly, I notice them. What are they wearing? Who are they talking to? What does their body language say about them? They become visible. All these men come from somewhere, have lives, moments of happiness and moments of sorrow. They probably have families and friends. Their homes may be on the other side of the world or the other side of the fence. Most of them have probably left their homes at about 4 a.m. to get to Herzliya in time to find work for the day and earn a mere pittance. How much did it cost for them to get here? How much will they earn? Will it be enough to provide for their children?

And then, as I walk back home a few hours later, the few left standing become even more visible. It was all in vain. They were not among the lucky ones chosen to haul, sweat, hammer, paint and saw for a few shekels. They will not be bringing home any money after a day of traveling, waiting and hoping. What do they tell their wives and children? What do they write back to their families in Africa? What do they do when they go back home to a place which may be no more than an unfinished building?

Then I realize how many invisible people there are. Wherever we go, they are there. There is the man cleaning the street who once had a different life in Ethiopia before he came to Israel. And there are the garbage collectors, usually young men who can work fast enough to collect the garbage, load it on trucks thus keeping our houses clean and sweet-smelling. Was this their childhood dream?

Perhaps it is time to open our eyes a bit wider and see the invisible. Let us at least be aware that humanity exists in all of us and let us hope that this realization will make us better people.

About the Author
Janet Goren grew up in the USA and has been living in Israel for more than fifty years. She raised her family here while teaching English in high school.
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