Whenever I come to the Tayelet to watch the ocean, the sunset, and the people, I always think to myself, “Why don’t I come here more often? Heck, why don’t I come here everyday?” I’m so blessed to live near the water, where troubles blow away with the breeze of the Mediterranean, and the evening call to prayer sets the tone above Jaffa’s gorgeous peninsula silhouette. “Allah Akbar!” Indeed.
While sitting on a bench discussing life with Miriam, we are approached by a Nigerian woman. My first instinct is to smile, my next is to be afraid… What does she want? Is she one of the refugees we’ve been learning about in seminar? Will she ask us for help? For money? Why is she reaching her hand out to me?
I am shaking it, and she is asking us where we are from. We tell her, “America,” and ask her where she’s from. She wants to know where we are staying. She is here for two weeks, “visiting,” “tourist.” I ask if her companion, standing unobtrusively a few yards away is her husband. “No!” she laughs, “Just a friend.” No more words are exchanged, just smiles, and she walks away to rejoin her friend on their stroll. That’s it. Just a sweet, simple encounter of human recognition that we are, in this moment, occupying the same small piece of Earth.
Next, I notice a circle forming on the grass down the beach to our right. There’s music. I don’t know what they’re doing– it appears to be a Shanti Banti (Israel for “hippie”) gathering of some sort. Perhaps related to the “Love Revolution” people who just a few minutes earlier approached us to give us hugs and hand us fliers about their Kabbalat Shabbat ceremony. People are embracing calmly in the circle, embracing and swaying gently… dancing.
But as I look closer, I see that they are not just Shanti Bantis but Tel Avivis from everyday walks of life– people with kids, couples, guys in business clothes. They encourage people strolling along the Tayelet to join in, and some do. I feel afraid to join in too, though I want to, what if it’s some kind of cult? But as I observe, I think to myself that year really seems to be about spontaneous public gatherings between people who are tired of isolation. Tired of materialism and individualism. Groups of people who want to protest selfishness and reclaim the public for positive expression of humanity. So I join.
After embracing in a circle, singing along wordlessly to a niggun, we sit and somebody invites us to go around and each share what we are feeling in this moment (in Hebrew). Somebody feels “excitement!” Others feel “fun!” “hope!” “gratitude!” “Ja Bless!” “ayayayayayayyayayaooooo!!!!!” I feel “Happiness.” Happiness? Can it be? I just woke up this morning feeling numb, wondering what I care about in this world anymore, and totally confused as to the path of my life. But somehow, as always here in Israel, there is perfect timing in spontaneity.
The next question is in Hebrew too complicated for me to understand, so I slip away to sit with Miriam on the bench again. We talk, and the next time I look back, the Shanti Bantis are dancing ecstatically with the sunset, near the waves of the Mediterranean. Shabbat Shalom.