Friday, November 21, 2008

Shabbat Shalom, Ze'ev

Those who know me know that I have some kind of unusual relationship with "people of the street." I don't know what it is....but certain times, certain people ...i am just drawn to...

So it is with Ze'ev. In the 2-1/2 years since I moved to Jerusalem, Ze'ev and I frequently encounter one another at various places throughout the City. But on yom shishi - the friday of erev Shabbat, he sits on his enormous backpack in front of the Super and other stores where I do my Shabbat shopping. He is probably in his 50's, pleasant, very grateful and we always talk a bit.

I don't know Ze'ev's story; one day I will ask, but for now, I see his forlorn look...except when I come by. When he sees me coming, he always brightens up and smiles and sits up tall....and he always says "It is so good to see you." I know he means it. When I inquired after his name, he looked so, you care about my name? was the look on his face. I'm sure no one ever asked him. I make it a point, every time I see him to call him by his name....names are important. They give us identity.

Ze'ev tells me this is his job...and it is. He probably makes fairly good money, maybe more than I do at the moment, and in Israel, people who live like this receive free health care. It is one of the wonders of this country. It doesn't matter that he may have more shekelim than I have, I still make sure I give something to him every week....and I always look forward to it. For whatever reason he has chosen or been forced to choose this kind of life, it must be so lonely and difficult. I can't imagine. Actually, I CAN imagine, and perhaps that's why I am moved to make a difference in his life. I have seen Ze'ev in other ways, at times, about town - times when the reality of not having enough to see him through the day or the week causes a panic in him. It's distressing to watch.

In the hot summer I sometimes take him a cold drink from the coffee shop on the street where he sits; on cold days, I may bring him a hot coffee. I don't assume he wants it, I always ask and every time he is so surprised and grateful.

Today I ran up to the Avenue for the second time, to get, last minute, my Shabbat flowers. I had felt badly this morning that I didn't have any cash for Ze'ev. I stopped and told him that I would have to catch up next week. "Ze beseder," he would say - "It's OK. Shabbat Shalom. It's so good to see you." But, really, I hadn't been by for a couple of weeks as the hard cash in the pocket has been elusive of late. I did however, have my cartise - my credit card. Since I was also needing a coffee before Shabbat set in, I was happy to think I could go to the coffee shop, and charge a couple of coffees. One for me, one and some pastries for Ze'ev.

But Ze'ev wasn't there, he had apparently left for whereever he goes for Shabbat...if he has a place to go..a shelter or kitchen...I don't know. I decided I would ask the store owner, whom I know, if I could "pre-purchase" a coffee or two for Ze'ev. After all I am there many Fridays and sit down to have a cup of coffee. I know the girls who work there too. I didn't think it would be a problem as in Israel most storekeepers are happy to extend credit if you need it, surely they wouldn't object to receiving a payment for more.

What happened shocked me. When I tried to explain what I wanted, first to one girl, then another, then another and finally the owner who was listening to each conversation...not a single one of them knew who I was talking about. Of course I didn't expect them to know his name, but surely they knew about this man who sits every week just a few feet from their door. I had a hard time calling him a beggar, because to me, Ze'ev is just a nice man with a sad life. But they didn't have a clue who he was, totally unaware that someone sat nearby needing people to notice him. I was stunned.

It was then I realized that they never saw him. He was invisible. Something even deeper gripped my soul. To be poor or unable to cope is difficult enough.... but to be invisible to those around never be heard or seen or recognized that you too are a human being with needs... what a painful thing.

I'm not going to judge the storeowner and his workers. I just felt bad for Ze'ev.

So, Ze'ev, though you won't see this, I just want to say to you ...

"Shabbat Shalom, friend, and may your heart prosper in whatever way you need it to. May you have a Shavua tov (good week) after Shabbat is over, and G-d willing, we'll share a coffee another time."

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