A couple of days’ back, I was trying to help my husband find his mobile phone in the car, where it had somehow slipped under the driver’s seat, when a weather-beaten Arab peddler came over to us, and tried to get us to buy a package of clothes pegs.
We said no, then tried to ignore him, but the man didn’t go away. He just stood there quietly, watching us play ‘hunt the phone.’ I didn’t feel threatened or intimidated by him, and as he stood there watching my husband, I started to ponder whether God wanted me to do a kindness for this Arab.
Because, I don’t know if you’ve heard the news, but Arabs are our enemy.
Arabs are the ones sending flame-filled balloons over the fence at Gaza. Arabs are the ones firing bullets into buses going to and from Bet-El. Arabs are the ones who stabbed the husband of one of my kid’s teachers to death in the Old City, three years ago.
And yet this man didn’t feel like ‘the enemy’.
“Aren’t there enough Jewish poor people in Jerusalem, that you have to give your hard-earned money and business to an Arab?!” said the voice in my head.
“But isn’t an Arab also created with tzelem Elokim, in the image of God?” retorted another. “Who knows, what difference a frum Israeli Jew doing a small kindness for an Arab could make in the world…”
My thoughts skipped back a couple days’ earlier, when I’d been at the garage in Givat Shaul trying to get the annual MOT for the car. The queues are always long there. Tempers always seem to be a little frayed, even on the best of days. All the testers there are Arab mechanics, don’t ask me why.
The brusque Arab in charge of our car test had gone AWOL for a minute in the middle, as he went to try and break up a fight that had broken out because an elderly Jewish women had absent-mindedly parked her car in such a way that no-one could get past her.
An older secular Jewish guy with bald head, and big statement earring in one lobe had got so apoplectic at this woman’s sloppy parking, our Arab ran off to intervene because he was worried about what this Jewish man might do to her.
“He almost hit her!” he told us, when he came back to testing our car. “People are crazy!”
Me and my husband looked at him, then looked at each other, unsure of how to respond. Is it ok, to find common ground with ‘the enemy’? Is it ok, to let the thought arise in your head that not all Arabs are bad, and that some of them appear to have better middot than some of the Jews out there?
Is that OK?
“Missus, I have 12 kids, and I need money to buy flour, to make bread.”
I was back in the car park, and the sad-eyed Arab peddler was talking to me again. 12 hungry Arab kids?! Wow, that’s potentially a whole squad of recruits for Hamas…
I turned to the man and I asked him, in my broken Hebrew:
“In your house, do you curse the Jews, or do you bless them?”
“We bless the Jews,” he responded. “I like Jews. I need money for flour, please help me.”
Again, the two voices started slugging it out:
“He’s just telling you what you want to hear, because he needs some money!”
But how much money was I going to give him, after all? Nine shekels? Is that even enough to buy a bag of basic flour? And even Arabs are created in the image of God…
“I don’t have a lot to give you, but I’m giving you this so you will continue to bless the Jews in your home,” I told the man, as my husband looked on a little bemused.
Because, we both know, Arabs are the enemy.
Was it right to give that man the money?
I don’t know.
I know charity is a serious business, and I usually try very hard to find the ‘worthy poor’ that Rebbe Nachman tells us should get first dibs on our tithes.
But something in that Arab’s countenance made me think ‘this guy is not the enemy, even though he’s clearly an Arab.’
Who knows? Maybe his ancestors were some of the rare Arabs who helped Jews fleeing from a blood-thirsty Arab mob out for blood. Who knows? Maybe one of his descendants – one of his 12 kids – will be the Arab who finally stands up publically for peace and moderation.
Who knows how much really got bought with that nine shekels, and whether it was a good way to spend it?
But when you live with ‘the enemy’ day in day out, and when you remember that Arabs are also created in the image of God, you walk a path filled with confusion and doubt.