Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Why Israel Really Is a Completely Different World

I saw a man kiss a mezuzah today. Okay, he was a Jew, albeit without a kippa, tzitzis or any outward sign of religious devotion. The mezuzah was on the door of an office. In the IKEA store. In Israel. His gesture was guileless, totally integrated with who he is. This profoundly Jewish gesture would simply NOT happen in any other part of the world.

Another notable event in our adventures at IKEA: we ate lunch. In the cafeteria. Like normal people do all over the world. But it’s an experience kosher consumers don’t often have, except in Israel where almost all restaurants, even cafeterias in Scandinavian furniture stores, have kosher supervision.

This, then, in two tiny episodes, is the power of a Jewish country.

There are thousands of ways a Jew, especially an observant Jew, adapts him/herself to a foreign culture. It becomes so ingrained, we don’t even realize we’re doing it. Until we’re in a Jewish country and it becomes possible to stop adapting because the country is already in synch with a Jewish life. That’s when you begin to notice all the ways you’ve been adapting.

Like getting off for Christian holidays but having to use leave time for Jewish holidays. Like bringing kosher food with you when you travel. Like Blue Laws or no mail on Sunday, because that’s the Christian Sabbath. Like celebrating, or at least marking, the “New Year” based on a lifecycle event of a Christian god. Like always feeling, ever so subtly, that you’re a minority in someone else’s majority culture. And don’t even get me started about the “not-our-holiday” madness, another season of which we have just endured. For five weeks a year, I cannot listen to the radio, shop, watch TV or read a magazine without being assaulted by a holiday that is not my own.

But in the only Jewish country in the entire universe, a non-religious IKEA employee with a screaming yellow shirt kisses a mezuzah as he goes from the Returns Department back to the Sales Floor, and nobody thinks he’s peculiar.

2 comments:

Beth Gordon said...

Rivkah, Having been to Ikea ourselves we share you sentiments. It is very easy to feel at home because you ARE at home. Beth and David

rutimizrachi said...

Sigh. Thanks for chalashing with me. My chest hurts when I feel this hungry for home. Funny... I never felt homesick in my life until I met Israel. Now this need to get back washes over me with incredible power, at the strangest times.

My guy in the screaming yellow shirt is a taxi driver -- kipah-less, shirt open to there, with lots of gold chains -- with a tiny Tehillim hanging from his rear-view mirror. He said "baruch Hashem" about four times during our conversation. I really miss him, and all his quirky brothers, and the streets he drives.