Posted in Fighting WorldSuck, Living in Israel

Gay Pride and Prejudice

For three days I’ve been trying to write something. I’ve been sitting in my apartment, not particularly busy on the weekend, trying to think of something to say about the most recent events in Israel. But the truth is, I’m speechless. I have no words. But just because I have no words doesn’t mean I can sit back and say nothing. So I’m going to try and put words to my feelings. Bear with me.

I’m going to address two main events that happened in the past few days in Israel: 1) On Thursday, six people were stabbed at the Pride March, and 2) early Friday morning two Palestinian homes were set on fire and as a result four family members were hospitalized and a baby died.  It’s horrifying enough just to read the headlines without thinking too deeply about it. But unfortunately both of those events comes in a context of a long and painful history, spattering more blood on the already stained pages.

The Jerusalem Pride Parade is one of my favorite things that happens in my city. Obviously I agree with what it stands for – the protest demanding equal rights under the law. I also just like being there. I feel safe there. I feel like I belong. Forget the fact that I identify as Bisexual – that’s the B in LGBT – it’s a place where everyone feels like they belong. Even if you are straight, female, single, socially awkward, none of those things matter at Pride. Pride is all about feeling good about who you are. For a few hours once a year, people who are bullied and discriminated against can finally feel normal and accepted. We can finally feel safe. On Thursday someone burst into that bubble and took away the safety of thousands. Not just the people he stabbed. Not just the people who were at the parade. He took away the safety of every religious, closeted LGBT person in the city. He gave a voice to all the hatred that is harbored towards LGBTs everywhere and especially within the Orthodox communities in Israel.

I was flipping through the comments on one of the articles discussing this event. I saw several comments insinuating that Israelis are a savage, blood-thirsty nation who just kill everyone we hate: Palestinians, gays, etc. I spent some time being patriotic and defending my people on the internet, only to wake up the following morning to the news about the Palestinian homes burned down.  I wasn’t shocked. It’s happened before. I just couldn’t help think about all those anti-Israeli commenters on the internet who had just been proven right. My insides squirmed at the notion that someone who identifies with the same nationality as I do would commit such a heinous act as burning a baby. This time the media was full of lots of posts talking about how the Jewish faith condemns any type of murder, and people who stab at the Pride parade or who kill anyone “aren’t really Jews.”

Except that they are Jews. And they are Israelis. And the world is looking at us now, in this moment, watching us cast off this act as the doings of a couple of crazy fanatics. Maybe it’s true – maybe it’s really only a handful of crazies committing these crimes. But as Brigitte Gabriel wisely said, “The peaceful majority are irrelevant.” It only took a handful of crazy fanatics to bring the twin towers to the ground.

But as a friend of mine said, there’s a reason these radicals attacked Palestinians, and not Russians, for example. There is a reason the stabber went to Gay Pride instead of going after red heads. The reason is that our culture tolerates hate.

Maybe instead of saying “they’re not really Jews” or “they got Judaism wrong,” it is time for us to take responsibility for the actions of our brethren and take a look at what messages in our culture could have led to this kind of violence. Maybe it’s time to just stop and say, we’re sorry. We screwed up. And now we are going to do everything we can to make sure it doesn’t happen again.  For example, our politicians are now going to refrain from making racist and homophobic comments, even in jest. Our schools are going to stop tolerating racist teachings and ideas in the classroom. Our rabbis are going to stop giving legitimacy to discrimimation against gays. Our country is now going to catch up with the rest of the modern world and finally pass marriage equality. Those would be some nice places to start.

So, in the name of all Israelis and all Jews everywhere, I’m sorry. We’re sorry. To the Palestinians and the family of sweet baby Ali, we’re sorry. I know it’s not enough and will never be enough. But I’m saying it because I want you to know that there are people in this country and in this world who reject hate and condemn violence of any kind. We are sorry. We screwed up and we hurt you.

To my brothers and sisters at Jerusalem Pride, we are sorry. We screwed up. We let too much homophobia settle into our culture. Don’t let it discourage you even for a moment. Keep Pride alive.

That’s all for now. Wishing everybody that the month of August may bring upon us a time of love and peace and coexistence and harmony. Alla yisalmakum.

Liora Sophie.

Posted in Fighting WorldSuck, Living in Israel

An Open Letter To Ramatcal Gadi Eizenkot

To: Gadi Eizenkot

Chief of Staff of Israel Defense Forces

May 1st, 2015

Dear Gadi,

I am an Israeli student of mathematics at Hebrew University, and I am writing to you because there is a cause to which I believe you can make a great difference. As a leader, in a position of power, your word stands to influence many. You have the privilege of being the head of one of the strongest armies in the world.

The women of Israel want to serve in the army. We are honored to represent our country and give our time and knowledge to it. We are proud to be a part of such an important body in the state of Israel.

I know that the military is a difficult setting for women. At the moment, however, enlisting is mandatory for women in Israel, and if you want women to serve, the army needs to be a safe place for us. Right now, it is not.

May Fatal’s story came to illustrate that. The responses her post received were mind boggling. The idea that pictures of her in a bathing suit could have anything to do with her sexual assault is a fallacy which was debunked decades ago. She is the victim, it was not her fault. She was not asking for it. It was not consensual. Women do not choose to be violated once by a man and then again by the media and the internet world in order to tell a lie. We only would do that to tell the truth.

I implore you, Mr. Eizenkot, to come out with a statement which condemns the assault of May Fatal and take a strong stance against sexual harassment in the army. You can make a difference. You can help make the IDF a safe place for women to be. Simply by telling the world that you do not believe the victim is at fault, by telling the IDF soldiers that there is someone who will support them if they are assaulted, and most importantly, that men care about women, and want them to feel safe, you can change the world.

Please do.

Awaiting your reply,

Liora Sophie

Citizen of Israel since 1999

Posted in Fighting WorldSuck

It’s Our Fight Too

It is with great pride that I announce to you that today, my step-dad was detained by the police for “disturbing the peace” at the Western Wall, when he participated in smuggling a Torah scroll to the Women of the Wall. This is a source of pride because it was for a noble purpose that he was standing in the way of a violent man who charged forward and knocked him to the ground, giving him a minor concussion.

Clearly the people who charged him with such a crime have a different idea of peace than I do. Their idea seems to include a status quo in which a minority group is prevented from practicing their religion in a democratic country. Somehow my idea of peace failed to recognize that kind of situation. As a consequence, my interpretation of “disturbing the peace” includes fighting for your religious freedom.

You might be wondering, what was my step-dad doing getting in a fight that was related to the Women of the Wall? Why should an affair relating to the Women of the Wall concern him in the first place?

Here is what the group that call themselves “The Men of the Women of the Wall” have to say on this topic:

It’s our fight too.

To an outsider it is easy to conclude that the Women of the Wall are all about feminism, rebellion, or even provocation, attention-seeking, and publicity. After all, the whole thing seems to be about what women are allowed to do at the Western Wall. That’s not how the men see it. Rightfully so, they view this battle as a battle for religious freedom. The protest of the Women of the Wall is an attempt to make the holy site a place where all types of religious practices are accepted. This is one of our most basic rights as citizens of a democratic state – and yet here is a striking example of its violation, and in Israel, of all places.

The point here being, a fight for religious freedom, even if it is initiated by women, affects men as well. The outcome of this fight affects them. It’s very nice that men have full religious freedom at the Wall, but just because they do now, doesn’t mean they will forever, certainly if there is another group that is openly denied their rights.

Thankfully, there are so many strong female leaders fighting for women’s rights all over the world. But what would the fight for women’s rights be if only women cared about their rights?

I apologize for being cliché, but I can not resist pasting my favorite TED talk here. Jackson Katz on the importance of male leadership and its role in combating gender violence:

To be even more cliché, I’m now going to bring quotes said by…my family members.

My stepdad said about this,

As in the case of any minority group, if the only one concerned with their rights is them, it will never affect change.

And my mom,

The blacks did not get civil rights in the United States until white people marched.

And how proud I am to be their daughter today.

Posted in Fighting WorldSuck

6 Million Things We Should Learn From The Holocaust

Okay, fine, I cut it down to six. Six million, as far as I’m concerned, is a kind of countable infinity, because it would take more time and energy than I would ever have in order to make a list that long. But each one of the concepts listed below can be implemented in our lives in a million different ways, so in a way, the six million is present.

  1. All people are equal. (and none are “more equal” than others). One of the questions that is most often asked about the holocaust is “Why did this happen?” It happened because of hatred. It happened because of the failure of some people to recognize different people as equal. Untermensch means sub-human, and this was the Nazis’ term for the Jews, Blacks, Gays, and whoever else was victimized by them. It’s not okay to see people as less than human. It’s not okay to treat them as such. Because all people are equal.

  2. Never underestimate peer pressure. The second most popular question is “How did this happen?” There is an amazing book (which was made into a movie) called The Wave, which discusses an experiment performed in a high school to teach students how people were swept up by the Nazis. It makes a profound statement about the power of peer pressure, and how difficult it is to resist when everyone around you is doing something, even if you think it’s wrong. We need to recognize that peer pressure can affect us, even subconsciously. Only when we appreciate its strength do we have a chance of standing up to it.

  3. What goes around comes around is not always true. We have to realize that the idea that if you are good, then good things will happen to you, is a myth. Nobody deserved what happened in the holocaust. It didn’t happen because of something we did wrong, and that idea can only lead to frustration or fallacious conclusions.

  4. Antisemitism is still alive. We can not ignore when a Jewish market is burned to the ground. We can not ignore when Jewish Synagogues are violated and graffittied all around the world. It’s easy, especially in Israel and in the United States, to live in a bubble and believe that Antisemitism is not politically correct anymore, and that the Jews are accepted and successful. We were in Germany too, before World War II. We were in Spain before the expulsion. The story goes that we were in Egypt as well, before we were made slaves. It’s not gone from the world, and we can not pretend that it is.

  5. Murder is bad. In her fantastic series, Harry Potter, J. K. Rowling makes this point masterfully. Every human life is connected to an entire world. Each one of us has a history, a family, a group of friends, a plethora of times and places and people we have touched in our lives. Cutting the life of a human being short, no matter who they are, is a terrible thing. In the age of crime shows and murder mysteries there is sometimes a sense that murder is mainstream, happening all the time and all over the world. While that may be true, we can never forget that each and every murder victim is an entire world, an entire life.

  6. Never let it happen again. What does this really mean? In some way it’s easy to stand for the siren and promise you’ll never put someone in a gas chamber. But there are ways in which individuals can help to make this promise as well. Besides the gas chambers and the massacre, what were the things that went on in the holocaust? It started with basic, everyday human interactions, such as discrimination, vandalism, boycotting, using hurtful language, publicly humiliating someone because of their race or nationality. These are things we can all work to oppose in our society and in the circles we are a part of. By being kind to everyone, accepting of those who are different from us, by seeing all humans as human, by valuing every human life, we can promise to never let it happen again.

Posted in Fighting WorldSuck, Living in Israel

To You, With Love From A Fellow Human

To the invaluable human soul behind the screen reading my words,

I want to talk to you about this week. Sunday the semester starts, and that’s not enough time to recover from the emotional impact of this week’s events. It’s not fair. Yesterday, a crazy person killed a baby with a car. Today, both Jews and Arabs threw rocks at each other. We’re all upset. Nobody can focus. It’s a terrible, horrible situation.

I want you to know that no matter what you think, no matter who you are, I feel your pain. Because pain is not something which belongs on any side of the political spectrum. Pain is human. As are all of us. So why can’t we stand together, hold hands, comfort each other?

If you’ll stick with me for just a moment longer, I’d like to share with you some beautiful words I heard from a speaker about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict several weeks ago. His name is Ali abu Awwad. It begins with the definition of hope.

“Hope is a place where people create, not just expect,” he says.

Ali Abu Awwad preaches non-violent action. Take action, but not violent action. His first experience of this concept was participating in a 17-day hunger strike in prison, as a protest against the separation of families inside the prison. He wanted to be reunited with his mother. This kind of action, he says is something powerful – it’s fighting with your humanity, more than violence, more than your political rights. “Non violence is to be an artist for your humanity.”

What is the most powerful tool of non-violent action? “Non-violent action causes the other side to see their own actions.” It creates a mirror for your opponent, rather than fueling his violence. “By not giving legitimacy to their violence, you create a safe place for them to give up.”

At 31, Ali’s brother was violently killed by an IDF soldier. The pain of loss and mourning led Ali to realize that there is no revenge good enough. Taking the life of another person can not ease the pain and will not bring back his brother. What keeps a person who has lost something so huge from turning into a murderer? Ali says that even though he lost his brother, his dreams, his land, and his rights, one thing he didn’t lose – his mind. When his brother was killed, a group of bereaved Israelis asked to come and meet his mother. For the first time in his life, Ali witnessed an Israeli person cry.

Israelis can cry? He asked himself. He was shocked. Before this incident he couldn’t imagine that Israelis could cry.

And what about forgiveness? How can you forgive someone for killing your brother? But Ali says he learned about forgiveness from a Sount African mother who told him, “Forgiveness is not giving up your right to justice, but giving up your just right to revenge.

It couldn’t be more clear that Ali does not believe war is any kind of solution. “Palestinian freedom has to go through Israeli hearts, not bodies.” He impresses the interdependence of the two nations by saying, “If Israel is not secure, Palestineans will never have freedom – but if Palestine doesn’t have freedom, Israel will never have security.”

And since then, he’s been an activist for Palestinian rights. He marches and speaks in favor of non violent action. One incident he told of stood out to me. When speaking at an Israeli school in the West Bank, one of the students, a nineteen year old, called him “a babboon.” Ali flattened him with heart-piercing dialogue, appealing to his humanity and commanding his respect. The student fell silent and later approached him, apologizing for his words and admitting that he had never met a Palestinian before. “I never imagined Palestinians had feelings.”

Do you see the striking parallel in these two stories? Each is a tale of a human experience, a raw encounter with our more basic instincts and our ability to overcome them in order to be civilized. Each tells about a person who had never met someone so different from them, but then learned that the other is human just as they are.

Ok, time to wrap things up. I just want to say to my friends at school, my neighbors in the dormitories, my friends in the West Bank and my friends far away in the United States and everywhere, at the end of the day, we’re all human, we can all cry, and that’s okay….

I’m going to leave you with a final quote from Ali, about what he sees as the definition of peace:

“Peace is the courage to engage in each other’s rights.”

Much love and wishes for a quiet weekend,

Liora Sophie

Posted in Fighting WorldSuck, Living in Israel

Why We Need Pride In Jerusalem

Too many people have asked me that question, so here’s your answer.

I am so incredibly proud to be a resident of Jerusalem right now. For one shining moment, no matter who you are – gay, lesbian, bi, trans, queer, pan, in, out, religious, secular, in between…for one moment you can just live in a bubble of freedom and acceptance. If you are at the parade you are cool by definition. For one blissful afternoon you can live your life without fear of judgment, discrimination, and violence. You can walk through the streets of this holy city and be totally free.

But here’s the catch: One afternoon every year or two is not enough. We march because we have the guts to expect more than that.

Before I go on about how much fun the parade was, I’d like to clear up a few misconceptions about the event itself. Some people feel that the Pride Parade is not appropriate in Jerusalem, the holy city. I’d like to clarify why I believe that there is no place more appropriate than Jerusalem, the capital of Israel.

  1. A religious man marches wearing a Gay Pride flag with Star of David, a mix of Pride and the Israeli flag.

     Inappropriate dress. This is not true for the Jerusalem Pride Parade. Out of 3,000 people, there were only two men who were not wearing shirts. And a male to female transgender in a dress does not count as cross dressing.

  2. Public Display of Affection. Again, out of 3,000 people I saw one couple kissing and a few couples holding hands. Yeah, PDA is gross! But straight PDA is not any less gross than gay PDA.

  3. It’s a secular event. In case you aren’t familiar with the demographics of Jerusalem, a large percentage of the population here are religious Jews / Christians / Muslims / Other. The Pride Parade was packed with kippas and tzitzit, skirts and hair coverings – our symbols of a religious lifestyle. Some of them are out of the closet religious people, some are straight supporters. There were far too many religious people at the parade to say that it is not relevant in a largely religious city.

  4. It’s a sex parade. It’s not. In Jerusalem, it’s a protest. We march for social change. We march because we deserve to live a life without violence, discrimination at work or anywhere else. We deserve health and marriage equality. And we’re not going to get those things by sitting down and being quiet.

In case you still aren’t convinced, let me address a specific moment of the parade. As we marched down Ramban street – which borders on a mainly religious neighborhood but does not go through it – somebody threw a stink bomb. I have to admit I was impressed. It seems like it would take quite a lot of premeditation and preparation to do such a thing. It seems like an enormous amount of energy to waste on hating someone. I’m glad to report that the person who did it was arrested while the parade was still going on, and what a shame, in the end he just stank up his own street.

Seriously, though. It wasn’t as if we didn’t know that was coming. It’s not the first time that has happened. Don’t you think it takes a good deal of courage and purpose to walk down the roads when you know you could be hit by a bag of someone else’s crap? So it smelled a little bad. It stopped no one. The parade marched on. Honestly, what’s a little stink bomb to the LGBT community, who endures far worse on a daily basis?

With that in mind, let’s not forget that a lot of people who march in the parade are not L, G, B, T or Q, but they recognize that this is a protest for human rights. The needs of the LGBT community are relevant to straight people as well. Because bullying and violence, discrimination based on race or gender, hate crimes, equality in health care and marriage are issues that hit every one of us close to home, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation.

So next year, pick a basic human right you feel you need, make a rainbow colored sign and come march with us. And if you feel you enjoy complete freedom and full human rights, come get your face painted and stand up for someone who doesn’t.

Posted in Fighting WorldSuck, Living in Israel

There Exists vs. For All – Math and Racism

I make generalizations by accident sometimes. I think everyone does. It’s just a habit we have of not being accurate when talking about other people.

One of the most basic principles of mathematics – logic, specifically – is the difference between “there exists” and “for all/every.” For example,

1. There exists a solution to the equation x+2=5

2. Every natural number is either even or odd.

The first statement tells us that something exists – but we only know of one number with that property. It would be silly to say that every number solves the equation. The second statement tells us something about all the natural numbers in the world – that even if we go on to infinity, we will never find a number which is neither even nor odd, or both at the same time.

I understand that logic theory is not a perfect analogy for our world since there is little room for grey areas. However, it still has a lot to teach us about our environment and society. The idea of political correctness is all about defining our statements in a more exact way. Often in everyday life we confuse “there exists” with “every,” and I want to argue that this miscalculation leads us to racism.

Here are some examples:

1. All Israelis are racist
2. All Arabs are terrorists
3. All Americans are rich (we have a big problem with that one here)
4. All Ethiopians are illiterate

All of These statements are wrong.

The four statements above are sentences which people have said to me. As sad as it is, I’m not making these up out of my own head. Let’s take a moment and look at some other ways to write the above statements

1. “There exist Israelis which are not racist.” (logical inverse) This is already a much more accurate statement, because we know there are Israelis which are not racist. Instead of saying “all” we should have said “there exist.” On the other hand, saying “There exist Israelis which are racist” gives the most accurate, much more intelligent sounding and much less judgmental statement, and it says the same thing as the original one: There’s racism in Israel, and I think it’s not cool.

2. “There exist Arabs which are not terrorists.” This one should be modified even further to the statement “There exist terrorists which are Arabs.” It’s deeper than “Not all Arabs are terrorists” – being a terrorist has nothing to do with being Arab! There are also terrorists which are Japanese and American. It’s terrible but it doesn’t mean that if you are American you have an increased chance of becoming a terrorist.

3. “There exist Americans that are not rich.” Sadly, most of the way Israelis are exposed to American culture is through television (similar to how Americans mostly see Israeli society through CNN). They watch shows like How I Met Your Mother, Glee and (God forbid) the Disney channel, and let’s face it – there’s not a lot of poverty on TV. It’s easy to look around and see that some people walked here from Ethiopia with the shirt on their back while Americans mostly take a 12 hour flight with two suitcases each. Regardless, the statement should still be “There exist Americans that are rich.” Because we know nothing about how many will be rich once we get infinity of them.

4.

“There exist Ethiopians that can read.” I sincerely thought we were done discriminating based on skin color, but it turns out the problem is still deep within us. Lots of people immigrate to Israel from Ethiopia, and just as with any group of new immigrants, the people who already live here find them strange, different, and “uneducated,” which just means they are culturally different. The statement is false because there are enough Ethiopians who are literate that if you meet one, it is wrong to assume they aren’t. Some have grown up here, served in the IDF and attended universities. Frankly, making a generalization based on skin color makes you look like the one who’s illiterate.

Everywhere we go there are people who are afraid of someone who’s different. But even that statement only implies the existence of two of these people. It is crucial to be exact when we speak of others, not to confuse “alls” with “exists” because we don’t have the ability to know what goes on when there is an infinite amount of people. Only then will it be perfectly okay to say “All.”

Posted in Fighting WorldSuck, Living in Israel

Bridges, Walls, and Leadership

“There was a large crowd of people…They were throwing things and shouting…”

This is not a quote from the Women of the Wall, but it might as well be. I was killing time on Facebook yesterday when I read this status update:

wow_status

and it reminded me of something from a children’s book I used to love when I was a little girl, “The Story of Ruby Bridges” by Robert Coles . In the book, he describes how Ruby Bridges,  six year old African American girl was volunteered to be one of the first children to attend a white school. In the quote she describes walking to school, escorted by police men, through the crowds of protesters shouting and throwing things. One morning, her teacher watches through the window while Ruby stops in the middle of the crowd and refuses to move for several minutes. “I saw you talking,” Mrs. Henry told her later when Ruby finally agreed to enter the school building. “I wasn’t talking,” said Ruby, “I was praying.”

IMG088

Ruby was six years old at the time. She was the only black girl in a school full of white children with angry parents, and somehow she found it inside her to pray for the people who crowded around and shouted and threw things at her. And thank goodness that she did that. Thank goodness that she kept going with the police men every day even though so many people tried to silence her. In the end, she paved the road for integration in schools. Eventually she was able to go to school without being accompanied by police.

I loved The Story of Ruby Bridges. She was like a hero to me. I even used her character once in a project in ceramics, because to me she was proof that great leadership can come in any size or color. And that is what the Women of the Wall show young girls all over the world.

Thank goodness that the Women of the Wall refuse to be silenced. Thank goodness that despite all the people who try to discourage them, they keep fighting. I hope that soon we can see them going to pray at the Wall without being escorted by the police. The Story of Ruby Bridges teaches us that equality and tolerance will triumph in the end. And boy will that be awkward for the people on the other side.

IMG087

Posted in Fighting WorldSuck, Living in Israel

Dear World, This Is Not What Judaism Really Is

“Give up,” my coworker says to me, as she watches me hack away at the keyboard angrily. “They’ll never listen to you. You can’t change the world.”

My coworker’s words of encouragement were said about my reaction to this article (sorry, can’t find English link just yet) which my friend posted on Facebook this morning. It talks about an Orthodox Rabbi in the community of Elon Moreh in Israel, who declared today that it is forbidden for a three year old girl to appear in a bathing suit during men’s swimming hours at the pool, to keep men from having “Impure thoughts.”

According to my coworker, who is more knowledgeable than me in the field of Orthodox Judaism, this Rabbi’s intentions were perfectly legitimate. He is trying to keep little girls safe from harassment. My argument is, whether or not that is true, what he said could only make things worse. Instead of standing up and saying “Rape is wrong!” he acknowledged the sexualization of three year olds as legitimate. Instead of saying “Three year olds are not sexual!” he essentially said, pedophilia is natural.

While this is so infuriating I am actually having trouble typing, the point I want to make here is that this kind of statement does not in any way represent the principles of Judaism. This is a case of extremism gone seriously wrong. It reminds me of when Rush Limbaugh attacked Sandra Fluke for protesting about the expenses of birth control, and called her all sorts of nasty names on his show. Obviously Limbaugh’s behavior was outrageous, but it was clear that he’s a nutcase and he does not represent the majority of Republicans.

What happened immediately afterwards is what I see as an act of true leadership. President Obama called up Sandra Fluke on the phone and told her she was brave for standing up for her rights. In this small act of kindness, Obama told the world that Rush Limbaugh is not worth listening to, that it is wrong to degrade and humiliate women for standing up for themselves.

This is a perfect example of the bystander approach which Jackson Katz talks about in this mind-blowing video on TED.com. He says that in order to end gender based violence, we need men with power to stand up to other men.

In the case of Rabbi Levanon we need an act of leadership similar to Obama’s. My coworker may be right – they won’t listen to me. But there are people they will listen to – the chief Rabbi of Israel, other orthodox rabbis in the community.  These are the people who need to stand up and say, this is wrong. Instead of standing by silently and not getting involved, people with influence need to get up and make noise and say, this is not Judaism. This is not okay.

Posted in Living in Israel

Three Tiny Moments

You know those grumpy old men who order you around like they own the world? I encountered one of them today, followed by two gentlemen who totally made up for his royal grumpiness. All within the space of half an hour, I went from being on the verge of tears to truly believing that peace in the middle east is possible.

I got on bus no. 7 at the university, heading toward my boyfriend’s house. The driver was driving like a complete maniac, speeding a stopping without slowing down. My stomach turned over. I put on my sea band but I was still nauseated. I finally got up and sat in the seat right behind the driver, which was a small improvement. About ten minutes later, a man got on the bus and tried to sit next to me. The problem was, the bench wasn’t big enough for two people. I told him this, and he said, “So move!” .When I didn’t, he sat down practically on top of me. I asked him if he was comfortable, and he replied:

“No, you should stand up. I’m handicapped, see? I have an electronic device here! You’ll never get to be my age, I curse you that you’ll never get to be my age, and you’ll remember that!”

Needless to say, I was a lot less motivated to stand up for him then. I told him I was feeling sick and was afraid that if I got up I’d throw up. People behind us started shouting that I should get up. (It’s important to know that there were other seats available on the bus.) But I didn’t get up, because I didn’t want to throw up. I got off the bus two stops later to switch to the number 8, and I said to him, “I hope you have a great day, may you be blessed with grandchildren and great grandchildren and everything good.” Why? Mostly because I wanted to make him feel bad about himself.

I did feel a bit bad afterwards. Maybe I should have gotten up for him. If there had been nowhere else to sit I would have in a heartbeat. But because I felt so sick, and there were other seats available, and he had cursed me to die young, I decided it was OK that I just didn’t feel like getting up.

When I got off the bus to wait for the next one, another old man sat down next to me at the stop. I recognized him as the security guard from my high school. I remembered his name, and asked him how he was doing. He smiled so broadly and seemed so happy to see me, even though I was sure he’d have no idea who I was. He knew I was from the high school where he used to work. We had a friendly discussion about his job and my degree. He told me he was very happy to see me. I was shocked. I used to greet him every day when I walked into school, but I doubt he ever knew my name.

The number 8 driver was just as bad as the previous one, and this time there was no room to sit. I held on to two of the yellow columns so I wouldn’t fly out the windshield. On one particularly quick stop I groaned and a man sitting in front of me said, “Are you okay?”

I told him I was fine, just a little nauseated, and he told me he also got nauseated so times from the bus. He insisted I take his seat. I refused but he got up anyway, so I sat down next to his wife and thanked him graciously. They were Muslims, not that that matters. It made me realize that there are people who are capable of seeing past the invisible lines drawn by our societies and our governments. It made me believe that peace in the Middle East is really possible.

These three people managed to impress upon me the power of kind words and small acts of kindness. You never know what saying “Good morning” might mean to a person, or what giving up your seat on the bus for them might make them believe.