A Stranger No More

This is a guest post by Abigail Pickus, a writer based in Jerusalem.  Check out her site: www.abigailpickus.com.  This article originally ran in The Jewish Week and is being reprinted with permission.
What a difference a few years make, I thought as I made my way home from a friend’s break-the-fast after Yom Kippur.
Two break-fasts, that is, and a third one that I had turned down.
Because nearly four years ago, soon after I had arrived in Israel, I hardly knew anyone. Which is why I felt very lucky to have been invited to break the Yom Kippur fast at someone’s house.
And not just anyone, but a real somebody. Like the Great Gatsby of the Yom Kippur break-fasts who every year opens her exquisite home in one of Jerusalem’s oldest neighborhoods to what seems like the cast of thousands.
I went alone.
After all, I was still a stranger in a strange land. And single. Very single.
Yet, despite my excitement, I almost didn’t make it. I had a map and asked for directions, but no one seemed able to help me find the house. It was dark outside and in my defense, this is an especially confusing part of Jerusalem, built upon the steep slant of a hill with what seems like an endless parade of stone steps leading downward. At each plateau, there is one fabulously wealthy home after the other, all filled with magnificent artwork and all, to my eye, indistinguishable from one another.
Hopelessly lost and feeling very much alone in the universe, I was about to give up and go home when suddenly a lone figure appeared. Sporting a pair of thick, black-framed glasses, he looked to be in his 70s.
As if reading my mind, he asked me in English if I was going to the Great Gatsby break-fast. I nodded and happily took the crook of his arm that he so gallantly offered me, while announcing that we shall go together.
Which is exactly what we did.
Once inside the house my escort lost me and I wandered around, my eyes wide with terror. The entire house was lit from within and bustling with families and teenagers and what they call here “mevugarim,” older folks. They all seemed to know each other and they seemed happily at home in this exquisite home, helping themselves to bagels and cream cheese.
I, on the other hand, didn’t know a soul.
Now it’s one thing to move to Israel, alone, in my late 30s. To start anew. To find a new apartment (or three), a new job (or three), and to adjust to a new language and culture. To go on Jdates in Hebrew and to find new friends.
Israelis are always saying that what I did took “ometz,” which means courage.
But to me, those things — these big, sweeping moves — aren’t so scary at all. Because they represent taking action instead of giving in to stagnancy. They represent choosing life instead of choosing death.
But put me in a social situation where I don’t know a soul? And suddenly, I’m no brave pioneer. Where is the ometz now, huh, people?
I was about to tiptoe out when suddenly my friend, who reminded me of Bosley from the original “Charlie’s Angels,” stopped me.
“Where are you going?”
I told him I was leaving.
“Without introducing yourself to anyone?” he asked.
I nodded.
He then told me a bit about himself. Let’s just say he had led an interesting life. So interesting, in fact, that he was writing a book about it. All I’m saying is it includes a dalliance with a disappearing Mossad agent.
I would have been happy just talking to him all night when he reminded me to go inside and mingle.
And so we did. He introduced me to a few people and those people introduced me to other people. And this being Jerusalem, a few people invited me to their homes for Shabbat meals.
Nothing ever materialized from those invitations but still, it’s the thought that counts.
And last year, I even went back to this break-fast with a boyfriend. How the mighty have risen!
But this year, once again single (the boyfriend has a brood of children and doesn’t want more, a deal breaker) I didn’t need to go back to this fancy home. (I wasn’t actually invited.)
I had enough friends and places to go that really did feel like home.
Still, it brought me back to how it felt to be new and to what the man who appeared out of the darkness who made me feel less alone wrote in response to my thank-you e-mail:
“Enjoy every moment of your new life, Abigail, and remember to put your hand out to welcome others and introduce yourself. So many people are shy.”
He signed with a Gmar Hatima Tova, which I might also extend to you, my readers, as I say goodbye and venture into this New Year, wondering what new adventures it will bring.