What happens in America when you need your refrigerator fixed? You call a repairman and he comes to your house. What do you have in common with him? If you live outside New York or New Jersey, not much. What do you talk about? Most of the time, you talk sports or TV or weather.
Israel is different. Yes, repairmen repair refrigerators here. But because this is Israel, refrigerators aren’t a repairman’s only expertise.
When my refrigerator developed a cooling problem, I called someone recommended to me as competent, clean and prompt. A dark-skinned man came to my house—and, as recommended, promptly fixed the problem.
As he worked, we talked. This man, looking to be close to retirement, came from Tunisia in 1956. At that time, the Israelis organizing the family aliyah told his father that he—the father—was welcome in Israel because he was young and strong. He should come. But the Israelis also said that my repairman’s grandfather and grandmother should stay in Tunisia. They were too old. The repairman’s father was adamant. He argued. He would come to Israel. But he would bring whomever he wanted to bring.
The Israelis acquiesced. The entire extended family came, except for my repairman’s aunt. She had been murdered, the repairman said, by ‘the Germans’.
He told a war story. The German army came to Tunisia in 1942, as World War Two began its third year. Tunisia became the only Arab country to come under direct German control. They imposed anti-Jewish rules. According to my repairman, the Germans began to gather Jews into ghettos (or, one ghetto---he wasn’t clear). One day, three German soldiers knocked on his grandfather’s door. When the grandfather opened the door, he was confronted by three giants (the grandfather was very short). The grandfather didn’t want to have anything to do with these Germans, so he said in Arabic what in English would translate as, ‘go to hell’, and in Hebrew would translate as, ’may your name be blotted out forever.’ The Germans were surprised. They heard the Arabic and replied, ‘Araviya’ (Arab), and left the house.
Immediately, the grandfather ordered everyone in the family to gather together. They ran to the mountains, where they remained, safe—except for the repairman’s aunt. She wouldn’t go. She stayed. The Germans shot her.
He told me he was proud to be in Israel. He said that his family had prayed to come to Israel. He spoke of prayers Jews say every day. But he put those prayers into his own perspective. First, he cupped his hands together as if to pray and started to sway back-and-forth as if in prayer. Then, imitating prayer, he said, for almost two thousand years my family prayed, ‘Eretz Yisroel (the land of Israel), eretz yisroel, eretz yisroel.’ He stopped swaying and said, ‘and now we are all here.
This man did not appear outwardly religious. But he understood two things most American Jews—even religious Jews—fail to understand: the power of our daily prayer and the Israel-centric nature of that prayer.
Before I made my own aliyah I was often asked by my Jewish friends why I was going to Israel. My answer was simple: I believe what I read when I pray every day.
Our prayers are Israel-centric. I once counted more than 30 references to Israel-Jerusalem-Zion-‘the land’ in our everyday prayers (the total varies, depending upon one’s eating habits, which determine which after-eating blessing one makes). Thirty repetitions a day means more than a thousand a year: I understand what this man means when he condenses his family’s prayer to, ‘eretz yisroel, eretz yisroel, eretz yisroel.
I asked the repairman about Israel’s leadership surrendering land. He was unimpressed. This is not their land, he said. I objected: they control the land. He was still unimpressed. Never forget, he replied, this land belongs only to G-d.
As an American who worked in Corporate USA, I have been trained to plan for today and tomorrow. I plan out every week. Not this repairman. He doesn’t think in terms of today or next week. He thinks in thousands of years: his family prayed for a thousand years--and here he is. G-d Promised this land to us—and here we are.
What more is there?
Can you imagine a corporate officer saying to his boss, ‘so what if we lost a month of profits? What’s one month in a journey that lasts a thousand years?’
His point was clear: who cares if Israel has anti-land leaders? They are nothings. They own nothing. G-d owns everything—and Israel is His alone. Look at us, he said. We pray to be ingathered. Well, I’m here from Tunisia. You’re here from America. Don’t you understand?
When you call a refrigerator repairman in Israel, you don’t just learn about your refrigerator.