We had a sick baby last weekend. So when Sara and her husband Rami knocked our door on Shabbat evening last Friday, I was still busy trying to soothe a feverish child.
When my husband came to get me I gave in to the sleep fighting sickly toddler. I decided to take our daughter to the living room, where Sara’s expression shouted “mixed emotions”.
“I didn’t dare to come over”. She said. “But it was your birthday, right? So I made you a cake.”
She pointed proudly at the glorious chocolate cake on the table. Decorated with a heart. We both raised our hands to our hearts.
Sara and I love each other through all the storms. It is a bond I can’t explain. We hugged tightly, our youngest ones on our hips.
Did you hear about what happened in the synagogue last Tuesday? Her eyes shimmering with fear. I didn’t dare to come over, she repeated. Because, you know, there are Arabs living here.
Sara and I live maybe a 150 meters apart from each other. She, in a bubble of Orthodox Jews, piled on top of one another in small shabby semi modern apartments. Large families who all follow the same Rabbi Eliezer Berland.
We live in an equally shabby but ancient Arab building that has been housing Jews for at least fifty years now. I haven’t seen any Arabs living close to us. But since we live close to East Jerusalem, Arabs tend to walk through our street. Or are hired by neighbors for repair jobs.
It was enough to scare Sara away. It is also enough to cause a close neighbor to run after his four year old screaming as soon as he goes out the door by himself.
Sara was hushed by her husband: it was Shabbat and there could be no mentioning nasty subjects. This was a joyful day. So Sara hushed and we continued patting each other’s knees, having her husband translate words for us without me looking him in the eye. Our usual lingo.
We switched topics: Rami had just returned from the Netherlands to visit his Rabbi. Eliezer Berland has recently taken refuge there after accusations of sexual abuse of young women.
Not that we talked about those accusations, mind you. It was Shabbat! And he didn’t do anything anyway.
Without Rami mentioning it, it became all too clear we might just be a sign. A sign from God that Sara and Rami’s true life destination is to be found in the Netherlands.
The Rabbi had urged Rami to start praying for a job in the Netherlands as a kosher butcher. So that is what he does now. Every. Single. Day. Almost as feverishly as the child attached to my hip that night.
And as much as I would enjoy taking my best friend here home with me, I feel sorry for them if they would succeed. I can not believe them being happy when taken out of their bubble, to be placed in the cold Netherlands.
Where family is far away. Where like minded religious people are hard to find. And perhaps in these times the most important part of all:
Where there’s no constant need to be afraid of Arabs.