“Friends are the family you choose.”
We all know this sentence. And it could go on like this: and the Family you didn’t choose are not necessarily your friends but sadly you’re stuck with them.
Being stuck in a room with people you don’t have any thing in common with but a great grandfather, can very easily look like a war movie…you are the prisoner, they are interrogating you.
Well, as unpleasant as these experiences can be, they can also turn into real challenges which force you to surpass yourself in terms of diplomacy.
“Sarah, on Wednesday I am going to visit my cousins in Ashdod, they ask about you. You are coming right?”This is what my dad told me. But what I heard was: “Sarah, my cousins are like my brothers, family is sacred, stop embarrassing me and come.
My dad’s cousins are religious. Religious and very right wing. Religious, very right wing and very self-confident. 5 years earlier, when I went to visit them and their families for the last time, I officially got declared the “F…ing leftist of the family”.
It was time for me to face the family jury again.
Food is a great ally in those situations. As long as you let people fill up your plate, the status quo is safe. It was the hot “café botz” that announced the beginning of the hostilities:
“So you still work with Arabs?” Ok, that was fast and straight to the point! I started to be sorry I ate so much. The combined effect of the warm afternoon sun and the heavy, greasy Algerian food made me so sleepy! Maybe it was part of his strategy?!
“Working with Arabs” for people like my dad’s cousin was the weirdest, most incomprehensible thing in the whole Universe. He, who had to run away from Algeria, lived in France and suffered a great deal of anti-Semitism, who made Aliyah to finally be safe couldn’t conceive that a Jew could willingly cooperate with Arabs. It was disturbing. He called me naïve, idealist, blind. How could I trust them? It was dangerous! And my dad! “How do you let her?!”
I work with people who believe in Peace. People who, like me, want to ensure a better future for the next generation. I work with people who are my brothers and sisters in terms of ideas. Yes, some of them are Muslims, some Christians, Jews, or Atheists. I teach kids about tolerance and about the three main religions. I have friends all over the world. My childhood friends are all Christians, and I don’t encourage all my Jewish friends abroad to move to Israel… And there is nothing weird about all this!
The social life of my dad’s cousins and their families only revolves around Jewish families with North African roots. Eating Gefilte fish is the height of exoticism for them. This kind of social life is not uncommon in our region. People stick to their community, and hardly know anything about different ethnic groups, don’t know anything about their neighbors. With this crazy social and culture division it is very easy to picture the other as a weird dangerous being.
Then came the final attack: The Almighty.
The Almighty chose us, he promised us a country, and he is judging us.
“And he created me the way I am! With my curiosity, my willingness to work with our neighbors for Peace. And my respect for my family history.”
I am still not sure what inspired my answer. I don’t believe G-od or whatever you call this higher presence, to be so involved in our daily lives. But my family does.
My dad’s cousin opened his mouth but not a sound came out of it. He sat back in the garden chair, stroked his beard and closed his eyes.
“He created you too.” He finally said. “So you probably have a role to play.”
This was the end of the discussion. And the family jury has declared me “the leftist of the family.”
I will wait a little more before I’ll tell him that HE created our neighbors too!
Sarah Perle, Israel
YaLa Young Leaders