My friend dropped me off across the street and pointed out the shelter where the minibus stopped. “The 16 sherut will take you straight to the train to the airport,” she said. “Don’t get on the 4 or the regular bus.” I wasn’t sure if she was telling me to avoid the normal bus because it didn’t go to the same destination as the sherut did, or because the large regular buses are often the target of suicide bombers. (They’re larger, and they’re government-subsidized; both are attractive reasons for a potential terrorist to get his bomb on.)
Not that it mattered. I liked the feeling of the private minibus. The clientele was a mish-mosh of scraggly hippie kids, snowman-shaped Russians, and old ladies with shopping trolleys bigger than they were. Before that, though, I stopped to pick up some rugelach.
Now, rugelach are an important part of any Israel experience. Fresh from the oven, painted with honey and sticky from melted chocolate and cinnamon that’s still oozing out the sides. I know people who’ve finely tuned the art of buying a box of Marzipan rugelach straight from the oven, hailing a sherut to the airport, and landing in New York 10 hours later with the gummy dough still warm and the chocolate still drizzly.
But Marzipan, and the people buying it, had the disadvantage of being in Jerusalem, which is an hour away from the airport on a good day. I was in Tel Aviv. And I was, by my friend’s estimation, 20 minutes from the gates of Ben-Gurion International.
So I popped into the closest store with a kosher certificate. I picked out a selection — mostly cinnamon, a few chocolates, some savory triangles to satiate that side of our mouths. (And by “our,” I mean my wife and kids, because if I got away with one whole piece of the loot, it’d be a good day in Brooklyn.) I picked up the tongs. The guy yelled at me that I shouldn’t touch all the rugelach, that I was taking too long. I told him that I was choosing them for my kids; I was about to get on a flight to America.
The other baker looked up from across the room. “Do you live in New York?” he asked, in Hebrew. And, when I nodded: “In Queens?”
I said, well, Brooklyn.
“Do you ever go to the grave of the Lubavitcher Rebbe?” he asked. I said, sometimes. The truth is, I’d only been once, although my wife gets around there fairly often, being of that ilk herself.
But sometimes was as good as yes. He fed out a piece of paper from the cash register and wrote something down in Hebrew. “This is my son,” he said, and read out the name. “When you go to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, I need you to ask him for a complete healing. Heal his body, heal his soul. Here.” He fumbled in his pocket and drew out a handful of change. I told him, don’t worry, I already had tzedakah to travel with, but he insisted. I promised him I would. Then he came around the counter
My first reaction was, Don’t you realize I’m going down? When someone moves to Israel, we call it making aliyah. No matter what you think of it politically, the land at the latitude and longitude of 31 o 30′ N and 34 o 45′ E is a pretty potent place, metaphysically. The only major world religion that hasn’t had some sort of epiphany near Jerusalem is Buddhism*, and that’s because they’re all vegetarians and don’t have any energy.** Whereas I am going to New York, which is most famous for people making money and soulless TV shows.
Then he came from around the counter and hugged me. Yes, he hugged me. For something I hadn’t even done yet and wasn’t even sure I was going to do personally. It was that potential, that in-the-moment energy, that I really could help him out, that I would transverse boroughs for him, or even just that I happened to be in the neighborhood of the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s cemetery and I’d blurt out a prayer.
In the moment I said yes, I was a complete tzaddik.
I’ve been back for 4 days so far. I haven’t gone yet, but I’m really going to try.
I wasn’t sure about going to Israel for 4 days. It was a hella long flight and an awful long time to be away from a very young baby. But that’s the reason why we do the things we do, whether it’s going to work to earn money or going to Israel and saying a prayer at the Western Wall — because in those moments are all the potential in the world. Fate could go any way. And, if we push hard enough, it really might.
* – Yes, I’m including Hinduism. Ask me about it sometime.
** – Sorry, but it’s true. And I know all Buddhists aren’t vegetarians; it’s just funnier when you say it that way. And, as a further postscript: I am a vegetarian, and I’m feeling pretty tired right now because I forgot to pack some proteiny thing for lunch today (or, I did, but the lentils were crunchy. Ewww). So there.
Pronounced: KOH-sher, Origin: Hebrew, adhering to kashrut, the traditional Jewish dietary laws.