The blaring buzz of our doorbell startled me out of my morning prayers. It was one of our first days in our new apartment in Efrat. The visitor was Ahmed, a building manager, who had come to check a water leak. As with all apartments in Israel, even though we’ve moved in, there is still quite a bit of unfinished business.
Ahmed has been a steadfast presence in our lives for the past year-and-a-half as we’ve eagerly awaited our move-in date. Most of our conversations are filled with pleasant banter, but this time was different. I was worried that my davening regalia and inability to speak would make for an awkward interaction. But I was wrong.
Whenever I’m praying at home, I’m always uneasy that someone will arrive and I’ll be unable to explain my garb and activity to the unexpected guest. These concerns come from past experiences. Many non-Jews don’t even know what to make of a kippah, let alone Tallit and Tefillin. So, when Ahmed arrived, I was a bit caught off guard.
My anxiety did not strictly exist on a religious level. A few days prior to this visit, Ahmed had come to the house for something a bit more disconcerting. The gas company had unsuccessfully attempted to connect our stove top. The technician told us there was a gas leak somewhere under the floor. The next day another technician along with Ahmed had to tear up the floor just outside our front door. The source of the leak was a nail one of the workers had driven through our gas pipe months earlier. This is not an uncommon occurrence in this part of the world.
So, when Ahmed showed up this time to check the water damage and I was unable to utter a word, I didn’t know what to expect. To his credit, he didn’t miss a beat. He was as warm and pleasant as he’d always been. We walked around the apartment, communicating through his speech and my cro-magnon-like grunting. In truth, I felt more of a shared understanding with him than I have with other Jews who’ve caught me “in the act”.
This experience says a lot about why we moved here. At first, I wasn’t sure about leaving Jerusalem. But my wife and I fell in love with this apartment and we couldn’t wait to make it our home. As I played with my children at sunset this past Shabbat, hearing the muezzin calling our neighbors to their evening prayers, my mind couldn’t help but review our short time spent here.
Just as there have been nails in our gas line, there have been plenty of “Ahmed moments” along the way. From the Arab hardware store owner who I had to communicate with as if I were davening, to my sister-in-law’s carpenter who comes from a neighboring community to build their bedroom furniture –– these are our everyday moments.
And that’s the other reason we’re here. If you’re someone who desperately longs for peace in this region, there is a benefit to being intertwined with our brothers and sisters from the other side. Just as with all relationships, our interactions will inevitably be both good and bad. But if we completely separate ourselves, then our paths will never meet.
May all of our meetings, with all people of the world, be for a blessing.