By Efrat Malachi, Staff Writer
The scariest thing you could do is speak to an Israeli with an American accent. For some psychological reason, it’s hard to open up and offer authentic parts of ourselves to others. As prime examples, it’s like speaking with a seemingly, silly accent or relating to a foreigner on the streets of NYC or in the halls of YU. I’ve found that over the years, in college and abroad, many of our perceptions of the world are deeply self-conceived. They make us falsely believe that who we’re meeting and what we’re doing is “weird” or “irrelevant.” Rarely do we allow tolerance and confidence to step into our self-image, so it resorts to photo-bombing it. But let me say this, letting ourselves engage with a person or ideology or religion not similar to our kind is not being unkind to our way of life.
This doesn’t mean we’re disrespecting or abandoning our belief system, it means we are ready to enhance that self-image and simultaneously the world’s image (what we call Torah U’madda). The world is an island, so small and packed with all sorts of tribes and cultures. The worst thing you could do is get into a tribal war because someone may have misinterpreted something. The best thing you could do is host a massive festival and feast because someone had the guts to sit down, understand, and make peace. This analogy comes to teach how we operate and interact with the nations of the world. It’s never an easy job, but if we want to survive, and further thrive, we need to learn how to talk to someone different, and more – how to listen and respond to that difference.
These different ideas can be coming from both the outside world and the one inside ourselves. To keep things simple, we often focus mainly on the ones that make most sense. We conform to the philosophies that are most comfortable and fitting for us. This is not to say there aren’t risk takers and big dreamers in the bunch, but the majority would rather congregate in a single tribe’s camp. That’s only one out of twelve tribes, minus the ones on the outskirts of Judaism. It’s understandable and natural for one to gravitate to what’s already known and established. Just know that it doesn’t make room for non-generic growth and a truly original, meaningful life. Being situated within a specific camp of thought means you will only ever recognize what’s residing in a few tents. You must explore the island (with caution of course) if you want to live colorfully. There’s so much to see and learn!
When it comes to the international students at YU, why not ask them for their story? It seems strange, but it’s simple and can make a world of a difference to them and to us. Because knowing that American students care for their culture, and don’t need a rhyme or reason to ask, is taking that first piece of stone or iron and bridging the divide. Becoming familiar with another’s narrative gives us the opportunity to expand our horizons and see farther into the distance, into bigger possibilities. Erasing the doubts and clichés in starting that conversation will make you forever grateful. It will be because of you that there is an additional friendship developing, not just between people but also between plans for a blooming island.
Right now, in the present day, a volcano has erupted on our island — COVID-19 has shaken our world. People are struggling in every which way – financially, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and socially. It seems like we’re losing everything and there is nothing that can save us. Here comes the sappy truth, but still a soothing breeze – unity. Human unity, equalizing humanity, is that underlying thread that ties us all – ashkis and sefardi, Jews and non-Jews; it calms and heals. It’s ironic but good to know that we’re not alone even though we are apart. We’re being isolated, challenged, and tried together. Maybe now is the time when the island is meant to be under construction. A time when we’re meant to be repairing relationships and building sensitivities in an honest, vulnerable way. A time to improve self-image and world image — when we aren’t afraid to believe in someone different or start something atypical. We don’t have all the answers, but we may have something better to offer – each other. Because the most courageous thing you could do is to speak with that authentic accent and own it.