Basia Monka – ‘Mashu Tov’… in a Multicultural State of Mind
„Welcome to Israel!” – said a musician from Bolivia to a group of tourists from China, in the Old City of Jaffa. At his little street booth, among the South American souvenirs, one could buy an Israeli ‘hamsa’ – the amulet, believed both by Jews and Arabs, to protect you from the evil eye. Tourists from Asia were dancing to the ethnic music and experiencing Israel. This is not typical.
But really what is typical is seeing Israel? Recently a Polish tourist, visiting Israel for the first time, told me how surprised she was to see everything so close here: a church, a mosque, a synagogue, the beach we were sitting at and the clubs she saw the night before… The image of Israel outside is so different from experiencing it from within. Talking of that, it’s hard to stay away from the politics, but I will try.
The language: To Jews it’s obvious that in Israel we speak (or try to) speak Hebrew. But it’s not so clear to everyone. Travelling in Europe, I have been asked once if I speak “Yiddish – the Jewish language”? because I live in Israel. I have heard also from some tourist from Switzerland or Italy here, that the “Israelian language” is very hard. It is, indeed. But why “Israelian” not Hebrew? You have English in England, French in France, Hungarian in Hungary, Italian in Italy,… so “Israelian” in Israel… Just like a fish soup from fish or a tomato soup from tomatoes. Simple, there is no such state ‘Hebrea’ after all, so if one comes to Israel, just as to a close European beach destination, may not think where he/ she flies to. Perhaps.
Safety: Why people, not Jews, Arabs, or Druze, but people of other ethnicity, choose Israel as their permanent or temporary home? (And I don’t dare to touch upon in such a short article, the issue of refugees from Africa and Syria, as this is way too complex, for just a mention). My recent meetings with people working here from all around the world, made me wonder, why? What made them choose this little piece of land?
Once a girl from Belarus, married to a Russian man who made ‘aliyah’, told me she loves Tel Aviv, “it’s so much fun” – she said. Five years ago she didn’t know such a country existed, but as she came for vacations, she stayed. She just loves Tel Aviv, as if the rest of the country doesn’t exist for her. She runs a business here, now.
Another women, Asha from India, who I met on a bus, came here over year ago. She is in her late thirties, married with a teenaged child. The family lives in India, she misses them a lot, but she makes money here. She takes care of an elderly person. Why here? She said that “here it is easier and she gets to work legally with social benefits, unlike other countries”. She also loves it here.
Another day, I spoke to a women from Philippines, Aurora, as with many Philippines she also works as a care giver. Why not in a different country? “Because here it’s the Holy Land, because it’s safe”- she said. “Are you serious – I asked – safe, with the war all the time?” “No, but they are religious, it’s safe” – she repeated. The simple believe in faith, makes her feel safe.
We have talked during a day street party and as a confirmation to her words, few minutes later a policeman said how happy he was to close the street for people to enjoy life and gave blessings to everyone. Blessings from a policeman! Yes, only in Israel, I thought! The party was organized as one of the events of the ‘Yom HaMasim HaTovim’ (Good Deeds Day). A day when lots of Israelis volunteer to visit those in need or to prepare food packages or, as in this case, make a street party for older peoples center with costumes, music and ‘jachnun’ – a traditional Yemeni pastry, with many layers of dough, served with tomato dip and a hard boiled egg. (Very simple, very fat, eating it too often could probably kill you, but having it at least once in one’s life, visiting Israel, is a must. It’s so good!)
On the same day, as I heard a Bolivian man, on the same street in Jaffa, just few hours before, a French Street Theatre had a play (by French Jewish, new emigrants) and a band from Africa gave a concert.
Last Week I saw a contemporary play “Mashu Tov” (literally: something good) at the national theater “Habima”. The play was funny, but not just the play was worth the attention. In the middle of the play an alarm turned on in the room, I heard around me the word ‘azaka’ (siren, alarm), the same word I had to learn fast almost three years ago during the war of the summer 2014. So I grabbed my bag and I was asking around if there was a ‘pigua’ (a terrorist attack). Hello, we are in Israel… But fortunately it was just an alarm that was turned on by mistake. The play continued. After the show, the fantastic actress Lea Koenig, the first lady of the Israeli stage, asked the audience if they forgave the theater for that break or, she smiled, if they should perform it all over again… ‘Ein Baya’ (no problem), no one complained, again – we are in Israel.
And maybe that ‘ein baya’ attitude, makes so many people to feel comfortable here. In this fascinating, but not an easy country to live, people from all over the world seem to find their own “mashu tov”. Their own good reasons for Israel, that the politicians and the world media never hear about…
Text and photo: Basia Monka
03/04/17, Tel Aviv