The Stories We Keep

The taxi driver didn’t understand me when I asked him to take me to Neve Michael, his silver brow arched perplexedly.

“Eipho?”

“Neve Michael.”

“Mah zeh?”

“Moshav, l’yad Gush Etzion. Zeh rak eser dakot b’recehv mi poh.”

“Ahhhh. Roglit. Hitkavant Roglit.”

His reshes rolled beautifully in an old school yemenite twang. His smile was kind and this time, both his eyebrows disappeared into the drooping silver curls flowing down his forehead.

“Lo yadati she’ hayah shem acheret.”

“Betach, betach.”

He went on to tell me that the community had been around since 1958.

Zipping down Route 375 which leads to Kiryat Gat, he began a friendly conversation with me, asking me what I was doing, going to that quiet little town on a corner of the Elah Valley know one really thinks of anymore.

“My sister lives there.” I continued in broken Hebrew.

He didn’t seem to notice because he then made a surprised, “ah, ken? Chashavti sh’at bat sheirut.”

I smiled and laughed. Considering I was a wearing a Donald Duck graphic T with an unbuttoned flannel oversized shirt, square glasses and a jean skirt, I could understand why I didn’t look quite like  a typical marketing professional and why he mistook me for a 18-20 year old doing national service.

I corrected him and told him I was 24 (this was last year, duh).

He smiled.

And told me I was still young.

I think the patience in his voice and the lyrical way he enunciated his phrases comforted me, reminding me of the neighbours I missed from my courtyard back home.

He pulled on the lapels of his mustard coloured rain jacket and leaned back, one hand on the wheel as if we were going to cruise calmly for a while.

He was telling me about a Toldot Aharon Chasid who he once drove all the way to Tiveria, who he had convincingly persuaded to buy a sandwich from a Yellow gas station (I think it was to shock me, as he made the appropriate “believe me” when i said “Aval hem mamash kitzoni!”), when he stopped and said;

“You know where we are?”

Uncertainty suddenly flooded through me. Did we turn off the 375 when I wasn’t paying attention?

“Eh…” I stuttered, worried I was at the mercy of a strange man on a back road.

“Emek Ha’Elah.”

Oh.

“Ah, ok.”

“At yodat mah karah po?”

“Eh-“

“The standoff between David and Goliat!”

I stole a glance at this guy’s head. No kippah. I felt instantly ashamed for having checked at all.

“Be’met? Ah, ken, yadati.”

“Barur.”

Can you imagine? He went on to say. I was tired, after a long day of work, and my Hebrew was stalling. I let him fill the gaps in my conversation.

“I’ve been here for thirty years. Still gets me. Isn’t it incredible?”

“Magniv.” I agreed.

He chuckled, misinterpreting my silence.

“Do you believe in that story?”

“Mah?”

“At ma’amina bah sipur hazeh?”

It was as if he was testing me and I couldn’t fathom why I responded skeptically, reminding myself that only the first eleven prakim of tanach were written metaphorically, according to the Rambam.

“Eh…l’phamim…Zeh lo pashut…rak…ani ma’amina..kachah kachah.”

He drove me through the gate, wondering where I needed to go. He gawped at the new Harchavah mumbling something about how he’d never seen the new part of this small corner of the Elah Valley.

I thanked him, looking at the field he pointed to as he departed.

“Right there, Chamudah.”

I climbed the stairs to my sister’s house, wondering too, what kind of stories we keep that are capable of bringing us so far, and all of us, so close.

~

Pesach, the passover holiday, was one of my favourite holidays growing up.

That sounds super juvenile because I actually love most of the holidays and came to appreciate their meaning and usefulness once I studied them in depth.

But Pesach always felt monumental.

A family gathers around a gleaming table, anticipating something auspicious and awe inspiring.

I was the youngest, so I’d bear the burden of the four questions. For most of my young life I was too afraid to ask them on my own and my older sister would sing them aloud with me.

But nothing could dampen the way we drank from the kosot and sang our stories off key, and the way the kitels gleamed and the k’erah was pointed to and the large meal served as a break between curiosity, narrative and redemption.

Central to Pesach, besides the purge of vanity in the form of burning chametz, is narrative.

Our nation’s story of survival, redemption and deliverance.

Humanity’s burden to tell it.

The book we read from is called a Haggadah the root of which  is L’Haggid, meaning “to tell.”

From my very first Artscroll haggadah, full of vivid illustrations, all the way to my current one with commentary from the Malbim, that story of Exodus from slavery to freedom, from the land of strangers to the promised land, that story has always gripped me.

Of all the narratives which attempt to capture the tests and triumphs of the Jewish nation, that one is the most moving.

Because it has us on the move from the very lowest of the low to the highest of the highs.

Every underdog story began there.

Every inspiring tale of perseverance.

The ultimate journey.

Traveling from darkness to light.

~

My favourite stories always involved these themes, tones and shades of every society’s struggle to reach redemption, to stand up, to be free and fair. To be just and kind.

And they were also always about a fearless girl, facing down her terrors.

From the midrashim of Miriam standing up to both her father and Pharaoh for the sake of her people’s continuity.

To Dvora Waysman’s tale of a Yemenite girl trekking across the desert to reach her holy land.

To Puah Shteiner’s first hand account of the Jewish exile from the Old City in 1948.

To all the stories that came after that might not have been all truth or history, but based in the truest sentiments known to man.

Humanity and redemption.

~

I walked passed the Elah Valley again today.

And I do believe the showdown between the small and inspired versus the mammoth and conceited took place there.

I’ve climbed ruins and crawled through tunnels that have revealed the truth of some of these narratives.

Pesach is a week away and with it, the story that makes the struggle of life worth living.

So I smiled towards the back gate.

Not without fear.

Perhaps filled with a little terror, but I hope with more compassion and humanity.

Thinking of the stories we keep.

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