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Tzedakah in Real Time

by Yoel Nitzarim

For a year and a half the same nightmare roiled through my nightly sleep, causing me to wake up unexpectedly in a cold sweat and the queasy feeling that I had done something awfully wrong. This recurrent image also assaulted my every action during the daytime hours. I would see the main character in her Moroccan multi-colored dress, her platinum hair covered with a babushka, her sallow countenance somewhat emaciated from years of begging in the extreme heat of the Judean Desert in the Old City of Jerusalem. Always would she appear with her royal command, "Sir, come here. I am a widow for many, many years. Come here, I say. Listen. I will show you my papers. Look. See. I told you that I was a widow. A big bill—that's what I want! Give it to me!"

As the perspiration would pour down my cheeks, sometimes I would literally gag on the salty consistency of the tears mixing with the hot, moist, viscid mucous in my chockablock nostrils. "Stop!" I'd yell at the top of my lungs. "Stop, I say! Don't you know that I am in America? How can I help you…you over there? What can I possibly do for you from six thousand miles away? For Heaven's sake, I'm in my pajamas!"

And she'd stop…for the moment. But she'd start again the next morning as if I had lied to her, as if I had turned my back on her. "Who are you to abandon me, my husband, for Heaven's sake?" she'd query.

And I'd talk right back to her as if she were right there at the base of my bed. "What do you mean by barging in on my family and all. Don't you see that I've been sleeping!? Don't you realize that I have work to go to in the morning?"

At times, I'd feel her hot breath in my face as she scorned my way of living, as she rejected my middle-class values, as she rebuffed my very being in her world. Sure I'd give her what for in my flatulent retorts; I'd defend my life, my modus vivendi, and my family. Alas, how could she understand? How could this nightly visitor perceive my American dream? What recourse would I have, though, other than to confront her into believing that I, too, had a right to live, that I shouldn't be attacked because of my fortuitous lot in life, that I was a human being just like she. She would have to listen to my reasoning. She would know that I had rights just like she. After all, I was created in the likeness of the Heavenly Father just like every other human being…just like she.

The origin of this tragedy took place during a mission to Israel when I just wanted to physically place myself in the Holy Land. I remember that during this recent visit to Jerusalem I had once given my accuser, a beggar lady, a half shekel, about fifty cents, to her utter dismay. That exchange plagued me. Indeed, it followed me like an albatross because it was accompanied by her cackling condemnation: "How could you be so cheap? Don't you realize how much I have suffered for all these years since my husband died? How do you think I pay for my four children?" Conversely, did she know how much money I had lining my pockets…and how many beggars there were in the streets of Jerusalem—each one resonating with a story of lasting misery and rueful disquietude of a forbidding magnitude. That was during the winter break of 2002.

After that trip, I hoped against hope that the day would come closer when I would truly meet up with my indictor. She would finally have her day of reckoning; furthermore, I would have my day of freedom. The day was the day following my younger daughter's bat-mitzvah at the Western Wall of all places. Until 1967, this place had the appellation the "Wailing Wall," for Jews from the world over would approach this holy site to find solace from their worldly woes. Now in 2003, not more than nine hundred meters from the very presence of the Shekinah at this remnant of the Second Temple, the woman who had so stridently denounced me for these eighteen months would finally receive her due: a fifty-shekel bill! With outstretched arms she welcomed her newly found largess; afterwards, she planted a vibrant kiss on my forehead.


from the November 2003 Edition of the Jewish Magazine




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