March 31, 2019

Never Have I Ever

“I’m at the central bus station,” my daughter replied.  “I’ll be there in about 10 minutes. Can’t wait to see the show.” 

I hung up the phone and ordered a coffee, sitting comfortably in the lobby of the Beit Shmuel theater beside the King David Hotel.

I was relieved that we had arrived early, found parking and was happy to be in Jerusalem for a night out at the theater.  The last time we went out to meet friends, we went to Tel Aviv and we were caught in a demonstration. As we tried to reach the restaurant, each road we wanted to turn onto was methodically barred by police. All traffic converged onto one road and soon came to a standstill. Waze, our usually reliable GPS system, had a nervous breakdown, displaying angry lines across the map. 

Lost without Waze and frustrated, I just wanted to abandon the car and walk. But there was no place to park. I googled the problem and realized that we had arrived in central Tel Aviv just in time for an Ethiopian demonstration against police violence. We finally ditched the car and made it to the restaurant on foot. It was a fancy chef-style bistro where people chatted politely over fancy hors d’oeuvres while not so far away, angry demonstrators protested and screamed.

I finished my coffee and looked at my watch. Twenty minutes had passed. I called my daughter. No reply. The performance was to begin in ten minutes. Where was she? I called again. Finally, she picked up the phone.

“I’m on the light rail. There’s some kind of Hareidi demonstration and we’re not moving.” 

I suggested she get off the light rail and walk but she told me the driver was not allowed to open the doors in between stops.

“The demonstrators are banging on the windows. They’re lying on the pavement in front of the train. Why are they so angry?”

I looked on my news app. Headlines read ‘Ultra-Orthodoxanti-draft protesters block Jerusalem roads.’ I read on. It was reported that they took to the streets after an Orthodox draft dodger was arrested for ignoring his draft notice for five years.

“We will die and not be drafted,” they screamed.

We left my daughter’s ticket with the usher and went into the theater to see ‘In the Heights.’ The salsa music and dancing were upbeat, the rap melodies clever and catchy.  Yet as we were riveted by this performance, not far away, the demonstrators hit and banged the street car and destroyed public property. Everyone who was locked inside the light rail car had places to go, jobs to get to and families to go home to. 

Frustrated secular passengers started to vent their frustration out on the religious passengers who looked around helplessly, explaining, “We’re not like them.”

One young energetic girl tried to make the best of a bad situation. “Let’s play ‘Never have I Ever.’” For once, everyone agreed.

“Never have I ever been stuck in a light rail car like this,” she started.

“Never have I ever been on a plane,” a religious boy in a black velvet kippa chimed in.

He continued, enjoying his moment of fame. “And never have I ever had my own cell phone.” His mother frowned at him. He giggled.

By intermission time, I was sure my daughter would be at the theatre. She was not. She so badly had wanted to come and knew the all the words to this musical by heart. When the second act started, her seat was still empty.

The light rail car ended up reversing a few meters back to the central bus station, to the exact spot where the passengers had boarded some two and a half hours previously.  Everyone was finally let off to find their own way in the now dark streets.

The curtain had come down and the theater was dark.

In Israel, extremism has become a norm. With so many external existential threats, one would think the country should be more united, especially when it comes to the army and self-defense. Sadly, this is not so.

We met our daughter after the show. She took the experience in stride but unfortunately it changed her and, after what she saw, there is no going back.

“I know we are all different,” she explained. “I respect everyone for their beliefs and I never wanted to judge people. But today, I saw anger and hate and I cannot accept this, especially when it comes to religion.”

This could have been her ‘Never have I ever’ statement. Sadly, she will see this anger again. These demonstrators gnarled up a huge city for hours, stole busy people’s precious time and jaded a young, open mind irreparably.

Israel is a young country with growing pains and an identity crisis. We have a lot of maturing ahead of us and a lot to learn.  Like the old Jewish parable about the stiff, upright cedar and the soft, flexible reed, we must all learn to stoop and to bend when the strong winds blow. As it says in the Talmud, 'Be pliable like a reed, not rigid like a cedar.' 

Yet, Never Have I Ever lived in a country that is so young yet has accomplished and contributed so much to the world in so little time. We must keep these miracles close to our hearts, think positively, envision unity and more than ever, learn how to be flexible.