Whenever I see her, I see Ethiopia.
I picture her walking in the barren woods, on the mud-packed paths, or whatever they have — I don’t really know how it looks there — but I know by her spirited, innocent, childlike steps while she carries 50-kilo boxes on her shoulders, that she’s there.
We are about the same age, I imagine. She works in the house just across the street. I work in mine. We see each other at the trash bin sometimes.
For about a year we just smiled and inclined our heads. The next year we exchanged some words. But already we are friends, and hardly need any words.
She is a Jew, and so am I. This is our language.
I know she has sons and daughters. I know that her husband went back to Ethiopia with their last pennies to bury his father with honor. I know that she works all day, carries heavy baskets, and always smiles. And I know something in that smile is so far away — not from here, and not from now — from anything I have ever experienced. Something of a purity of life, a place I have never been.
Jews without Jacuzzis, without electricity, without running water.
It’s so amazing how Jews help Jews.
I so understand it as a parent. What makes a parent happier in the world than someone doing good to their child?
As far as I’m concerned there is nothing better that a person can do for me than to be kind to my children. And we are G-d’s children.
From this I understand a little more about how much nachas we bring when we are kind to each other.
I don’t try to figure it all out, just like I can’t understand all of Ethiopia by watching my neighbor.
We can’t understand all of Hashem’s ways by watching This World. We can only guess, get a feeling, a flavor, of what lies beyond.
The Ethiopian woman across the street starts to walk like she’s tired and dragging. Nothing like her regular spirited step. One day I ask what’s wrong.
She shows me a hand covered in dark bruises. Boiling-hot, toxic cleaning materials from cleaning out the limestone buildup inside the electric tea kettle had spilled on her hand. Months went by with tremendous burning and pain. She went to doctors, but no one helped. She hasn’t slept in months.
Something wasn’t right. We called a skin doctor friend. He took her right away, and prescribed some small container of cream.
Within one night she started to feel better.
Within three days her joy of life was back.
Sometimes Hashem sends the cure, just like that. We don’t know how or where. Sometimes we search the whole world for it, and there it is, like Rebbe Nachman says, “in our own backyard.”
Growing up, we had a neighbor across the street who came from Israel. We had the kind of street where everyone lived inside each other’s houses. Whenever I would go to this neighbor, I would get a feeling, a flavor of what is Israel, just from the way she talked and the way she walked, though I had never been there.
She was the only one in those days who still had an outdoor clothesline. When she hung up the clothes, I was in Israel. When she cooked what we used to call Israeli meatballs — which I now know were falafel balls — I was in Israel. When we sat on her porch together, I was in Israel.
She must have seen me tired and low-spirited, dragging along, a little sad and burned out. One day she asked, “What’s wrong?” I showed her my darkened heart. Malls and Macy’s were not enough. She suggested a little balm for my soul, maybe I should visit Israel.
Within one night I started to feel better.
Within three days my joy of life was back.
Sometimes Hashem sends the answer, just like that. We don’t know how or where. Sometimes we search the whole world for it, and there it is, like Rebbe Nachman says, “in our own backyard.”
And sometimes it’s just across the street.