Appreciating the Unexpected
By Karen Biala
In Israel, you never know what will happen. Here is one olah's story about experiencing unexpected kindness.
I was heading to my grandmother’s house in Tel Baruh, which was only about a twenty-minute walk away from where I was standing when I realized that I was unsure of how to get there. I happened to borrow my grandmother’s basic Motorola flip phone that night since I did not have a plan set up on my smartphone and knew that I would not have Wi-Fi while I was walking around Tel Aviv. The choice seemed like a good one at the time because I could use the phone to make local calls if I had an emergency. However, I was stuck not being able to refer to Google Maps or any navigation application, which left me feeling totally lost. It was not that late yet, but I told myself that I would not call anyone in my family before first trying to get directions from someone in the area. Little did I know how that would turn out...
I caught the attention of a young man riding his bike and breathed a short sigh of relief when he stopped to help me. I asked him how to get to my grandmother’s street in elementary Hebrew. He replied with the curt response, “check Moovit,” an Israeli transit app that I have now come to use frequently. I explained that I could not, and what followed felt like an interview. He started asking me many personal questions. By the time he directed me home, I had told this guy half of my life story - what brought me to visit Israel, my age, etc. While we spoke, he revealed that his name is Shimon and that he was thirty-one years old. Given that we were close in age, I figured maybe he was hitting on me and my guard went up. Before leaving, he told me that he wanted a way to reach me to make sure I got home alright. With a bit of hesitation, I gave him my full name so that he could connect with me on Facebook. He did check in later that night, and I remember being touched by that. His message was genuine, and though we haven’t spoken since then, Shimon and I are Facebook friends to this day. The experience I had that night was my first real moment of disorientation after deciding to relocate to Israel. It is also one of the things I love most about this country that I now call home. Specifically, I embrace the fact that people interact with strangers in a way that enables them to become friends within no time. I had another unexpected moment that caught me off guard a few months after I actually moved, but this time it was with a friend.
I met Naama at a language exchange event. During our short conversation, we discovered that we lived a few streets away from each other and made plans to meet up on Yom Kippur, which was quickly approaching. It was my first time celebrating the holiday in Israel, so it was nice to spend part of it with one of my new friends. Within a few weeks, I was in touch with Naama on a regular basis, as we both love going to the beach and started heading there together.
One day, I told Naama that I had no laundry machine in my studio apartment and did not know how I would manage to clean my sheets that week. I was crazy enough to wash most of my clothes by hand that first year. Since bulky items are particularly tough, I would bring those to my grandmother’s house when I went to visit her. Knowing that I was not going to see my grandmother, I reached out to Naama for suggestions, as the laundromat near us was unreasonably expensive. She offered to let me launder all of my linens at her apartment, and I thought to myself, “how sweet of her!”
What really made me appreciate Naama’s willingness to help was what she did the next time. To my amazement, she gave me a spare key to her apartment so that I would not have to coordinate when I would pick everything up from her when my load finished. I could not believe that after a couple of weeks of knowing me, she was comfortable doing that. After that day, I told her how grateful I was that she opened her home to me and bought her some new laundry detergent when I noticed she was running low. I knew that my deed was nothing compared to her act of kindness.
Time and time again through my interactions with other natives, I witness the same warmth that I felt from Shimon's follow-up note and compassion that Naama demonstrated to me early on in our friendship. These are traits that charm me most when I meet Israelis. My experiences made me appreciate the unexpected so much so that now that I have converted into an Israeli (more or less), I too do my best to pay it forward to others whenever I get the opportunity. If we all embrace the chance to spread kindness among our community, I have no doubt that Israel will remain a place where other immigrants will choose to live. We each have the ability to surprise others in ways that not only involve lending them a hand but also result in touching their hearts.