Israel Stories

Monday, March 26, 2007

The Neighbor

‘Come on England, Allah Akbar, come on England, Allah Akbar’ and so the bizarre sound of England football supporters echoed by the call to prayer bizarrely echoed each other, and where else could this have happened but the Kotel plaza.

“So who are you supporting?” My friend teased me. “Gonna’ show your true colors as a Brit or as a loyal, Israeli citizen?”

The nightmare scenario had happened and the ultimate question was being forced on me. Now, however, much as I tried to convince my friend it was nothing to do with loyalties and it wasn’t traitorous to hope that both teams won, he wasn’t convinced.

Truth is I wasn’t convinced either. I felt terrible. Should I really be entertaining the thought of supporting England. Yes I still have a UK passport, but then I have an Israeli passport too and an Israeli ID card.

I looked to the Kotel for inspiration, then my wife phoned.

“Oh, you speak English,” a voice behind me yelled. “Listen mate, where is the Western Wall?” I looked at the man up and down, his freshly laundered England football shirt, blindingly white, was pulled taught barely covered his rather large bear gut. His hair cropped to short you could have filed your nails with it. I thought of my answer carefully. Irony and sarcasm would have bounced off this guy, like a bear glass off his head and if he got the wrong end of the stick, could have endangered my life.

“Erm, its, er, there, right in front of you, that huge wall where all the people are praying.”

“Thanks mate.”

“Listen”, I continued, “if you want England to win tell your mates to give their money to all those guys in the black hats, it might help, this is a very holy area and they have a great deal of influence”.

“Great, thanks mate.” And off he walked towards the Wall, coins tickling in his hand.

Could I really be associated with these guys, maybe Israel is the right team. But supporting a team is nothing to do with national pride, not for me. I tried to convince myself it wasn’t national pride but I wasn’t happy.

Then the Friday night before the match it all became clear to me.

Just as we were relaxing after a very filling meal and superb desert there was a knock at the door. Our friend L stood there composed but obviously troubled. Our daughter just feel off her chair and is missing a tooth, can you help. We immediately sprang into action, my wife, the doctor, went round to there house while I tried to find the nearest dentist. When I arrived at their house H was standing there in a blood soaked shirt, their daughters crying emanated from the house.

We eventually managed to help them sort things out and everyone returned home.

Relaxing, I suddenly asked my wife if she knew the names of her neighbors who lived two doors away from her in England. No idea she replied, me neither I said. Then I proceeded to name all the people that lived in the 15 or so houses around us.

Then it all became clear to me. It’s not supporting a team, or national pride but it’s deeper than that its giving support to your neighbors, your community. Its being apart of everything that happens around you. It knowing the names of your neighbor’s neighbors and being there, all the time for everyone. It’s a unique feeling being told by a stranger how to dress your baby or having a heated political discussion on the bus with a guy you don’t know, and would probably never meet again. And that’s because we live in one huge community.

You love them and care for them They wind you up and you may even hate their guts but ultimately their your family, your community and when things go wrong we all wear the same colors.

From the day we came out Egypt and throughout our history we have been together regardless of boundaries, cultures and languages. That is national pride. Our people in our country, at ground level looking out for each other.

There was no question, Israel it had to be, it always was and it always will be. I just took me time to realize it.

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