The lovely woman who used to clean my parents home was a bright nurse from Russia who always wanted to practice her English with us. We, on the other hand, dreaded the difficult conversations and avoided being home on her cleaning day. If I ever see her again, I’ll ask for her forgiveness, because now I understand what it means to feel incompetent with language. I’ve been living in Jerusalem for seven months now, and though my Hebrew is better than the English of many Israelis, I’m still learning and have my moments of “immigrant despair.”
Still, the most challenging obstacle I’ve crossed since making Aliyah isn’t the language barrier or my three-hour commute to school at Ben Gurion University, but always being on the receiving end of an exchange. Rides, notes, advice and leftovers are just a few of the gifts I’ve taken since I have come to Israel as an Olah Chadasha, or a female, Jewish immigrant.
For instance, to avoid commuting back and forth for a couple of days, I took the hospitality of a classmate who offered her house to me — I’ll call her Dorit. She’s a grandmother who makes delicious Sephardic food and offered me her bed, choosing to sleep on the couch despite my protests. My class started earlier than hers, so she would bring me a sandwich when she got to school. She insisted that I feel at home in her house. She was giving, and I was taking.
But, I couldn’t have guessed the words to come out of her mouth next, words that made cover my face with my hair so she could not see my tears.
Before I left Dorit, I told her about my family back home, explaining that we’re givers before takers, and receiving her hospitality with nothing to give in return was uncomfortable for me. She, in typical Israeli fashion, threw up her hands in the air and admonished such nonsense, exclaiming a child like myself needs care. But I couldn’t have guessed the words to come out of her mouth next, words that made cover my face with my hair so she could not see my tears — she said I have my own way of giving. Speaking nicely, saying thank you, sharing a smile and most of all, giving myself to the Jewish country, she said, were my ways of expressing gratitude.
Jewish law mandates everyone give 10 percent of their earnings to charity, whether it be in money or time, because the ability to earn was only made possible by G-d’s support. Though I could only offer a smile and thanks in return for Dorit’s kindness, she taught me the importance of following this law and giving back.
More importantly, Dorit showed me just how the law works: It’s not what we give, but that we give. It’s not just a plaque displaying our names on a wall, but also the act of kicking a stick from the middle of the path so no one trips. It’s the support we give a friend when they’re having a bad day and it’s the smile that we send towards someone who looks like they could use it.
Dorit taught me we all have something to give, regardless of how little we think we have to offer, and sometimes, the greatest gift of all is to let another give.