Exploring Community Far Away from Home

By Jillian Hoenig, Shaalvim for Women
 
Does our unity make us a community, or does our being a community unite us?
 
What does it mean to be a community?
 
To be a state?
 
To be a nation?
 
What connection do we have with one another? 
 
 My friend Ariel and I were in Sanhedria looking to hail a cab.
 
I saw one coming down the road and signaled to it.
 
“Shalom, ma slomeich? (How are you)?” She said as we piled into the vehicle.
 
“Which cab company to you work for,” she said, gesturing towards the empty spot on the windshield where the name of a company should have been.
 
“What company do I work for? ANI OVED LACHEVRAH SHEL HAKADOSH BARUCH HU! (I work for the company of the holy One blessed be He)!”
 
I must add here that, with few exceptions, such a comment will send people running for the door.
 
I, unfortunately, was in a moving vehicle.
 
“Are you looking for a shidduch?”
 
“I’m not—but she is!” joked Ariel, motioning towards me.
 
I glared at her.  
 
“Great! I have a nephew who’s just about your age!”
 
The joke was apparently lost on our new friend. I began fumbling for the Hebrew words with which I could possibly explain to this man why I don’t want to marry his nephew right now.
 
“Ani choshevet sheani lo... (I don’t think that I’m)…”
 
“How old are you?”
 
“Eighteen?”
 
“Perfect! My nephew is twenty-seven! He’s very smart. He’s studying to become a doctor."
 
He handed me his business card. "Here's my number.”
 
This would not be the last time the two of us would get an interesting taste of Israel from the backseat of a cab.
 
“Malkha, bevakasha (Please take us to Malkha).”
 
The cab driver’s face lit up. “Gam ani meimalkha! (I am also from Malkha)!”
 
As we approached the neighborhood in question, he turned off the meter. He then proceeded to take us on a tour, the focus of which being his family lineage.
 
First, he showed us the apartment building where his grandmother had lived—then that of his parents—then his shul—and finally his own house, where we met his wife and two of his children. And, after a series of events only peripherally related to the cab ride, Ariel and I had become acquainted with his brother, brother-in-law, cousins, and a large portion of the extended family—many of whom were cab drivers who live in Malkha.
 
From that point on, whenever I would walk out of my building, I was likely to see one of our newfound friends waving at me from the window of a cab.
             
 
“Who are all these people?!” I would, at times, think to myself. This new kind of community perplexed me. What is a community? 
 
This time I was standing outside a bagel shop, and the woman standing next to me was voicing to me her take on what I realize now was, by coincidence, eerily interrelated to the question at hand.
 
“Listen,” the woman explained, “I don’t let my kids play outside in the street like these Israeli women do. I grew up in Brooklyn—I don’t trust anybody.”  
           
I was passing through an underground walkway, and I was drawn by the sight of a man who seemed to be dressed as Avraham Aveinu.
 
He was bent over and talking to a man lying on the ground with a blanket over his legs and a shopping cart by his feet. As I drew closer I saw the man dressed as a biblical character was just talking to the man on the ground.
 
About forty minutes later, I returned to the site to find the two men were still conversing. In every way he embodied the Avraham from the bible, (whom he was dressed up as).
 
He was performing hachnasat orchim, (welcoming guests), in the truest sense—not that he was welcoming this homeless man into his house, but, by creating a bond between himself and the man by simply conversing with him, he was drawing him into the fabric society.
          
Now and then I will reflect upon what the woman outside the bagel shop said to me.
 
But if ever I begin to believe it, I am promptly revisited by memories of all the people who welcomed me into and treated me as a part of their families—(figuratively, and sometimes literally).
 
 I still cannot be sure what it means to be a community. I expect there is no right answer.
 
But from time to time I remember all these people and the society that absorbed me eagerly and happily—these people who blurred the boundaries between neighbors and family members—and I miss them, as I would my family.
 

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