Months ago we found a plastic bag dangling on our door knob.
Already used to finding junk everywhere, we first thought our front door had turned in to the new waste deposit of the neighborhood.
In a way and to the standards of my former life, it was waste. Although the contents of the bag appeared to be a present.
A huge box of chocolate cake bars. And a smaller package of muesli bars. No note, no card. We called around, asked colleagues and friends. Nobody seemed to have been the generous giver.
The Muesli bars were a far stretch from healthy. Not to mention palatable. The cake bars were so full of hydrogenated fats, they would not melt in the warmest summer sun. Someone meant well. Someone knew us very poorly but had meant well.
In the Netherlands we used to eat whole foods and very little sugar. We tried to avoid all processed foods. Here, things changed not just a little.
To fit in, I learned to adjust to the local kid friendly diet. In the country of disposables, portion sized snacks are a perfectly fine way to feed your kids. Candy is everywhere. Chips come in toddler sized bags. Sweet or savory, it appears to be breakfast to many of my Haredi friends’ children.
I learned not to cringe when people offered my kids a bag of salty snacks at nine in the morning. I am now able to not even raise an eyebrow when my two year old is offered two lollipops simultaneously.
One of the first times I met Sara in the playground she pulled out a big plastic shopping bag. When she emptied the contents of the bag, some thirty children eagerly awaited her signature snack. Flocking around her like pigeons on Dam Square in Amsterdam. At first my children thought Sara was handing out crafts supplies. Eager to start playing with what they perceived as colored sand. They soon learned to appreciate Israel’s way to express love for children. The local kids bit a corner off the bag and start sucking on the sugar Sara had dyed with food coloring.
My new friend, the playground crazy lady, offers the kids as many chocolate bars as they can hold. She smiles motherly when they flush it down with bright pink soda. Because of Hanukkah she had made Sufganiyot today: deep fried donuts covered in sugar. Offering the kids her shirt to wipe their hands off after eating.
Yesterday evening I was busy cooking when someone knocked the door. Mary Ann, a neighbor who I hadn’t seen in ages, stumbled in. In her hand, a fifty shekel bill. In her eyes, the haunted look that made me happy I hadn’t seen her so long.
The last time we did see her, she couldn’t stop whispering to us. We had hardly exchanged names when she started crying. In a somewhat louder whisper she told us she was so happy believers had come to live next to her. Because the Jews that lived around us didn’t understand Jesus as their savior. But now…
We avoided Mary Ann a little after that. And she had seemed to avoid us. Until yesterday evening.
Thieves and killers will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven! She exclaimed. I have stolen, or maybe taken, a bucket of paint that was outside your door. I thought that you had discarded it, that I could take it. But since tonight’s Service, I know I have to pay you! It was not right, I should not have taken it without asking!
I rushed to the kitchen. I did not want to be too close to this woman: Really, Mary Ann, don’t worry about it, we didn’t need that paint, I hadn’t even missed it, you must have been able to use it better than we would have.
I know now that I should’ve said: Fine, great, thank you, give me the money. But in stead I tried to make her feel better. Pretending the pan on the stove needed my full attention and trying hard to comfort her. Most of all trying hard to make her leave.
Mary Ann shut the front door behind her, tried to hug me, put the bill in my hand. The last thing I wanted was her money.
Half heartedly shaking her off, I thought I had a brilliant suggestion: Give it to charity! That way everyone wins!
Mary Ann looked around her and spotted the kids. She was obviously better at this than I: Buy a present for your beautiful children! Buy them candy!
The kids, who until now had pretended not to have noticed someone new in the house, all looked up with big round eyes. Then started cornering me, whispering: Mommy, yes, candy, gifts!
Mary Ann folded the bill and put it on our dining table, smiling contentedly. I did not want to interrupt her leaving, uttered a thank you and just smiled back.
The door knob in her hand, she turned around: Did you ever find the chocolate I hung on your door? I felt so bad I had taken that paint, I wanted to do something back.
She shut the door behind her. Leaving me behind with the faint smell of craziness, a solved mystery, fifty shekel, and kids begging for toys.