Syria on my mind. Thinking about Sammy and his story, thinking about dictators and horrible wives of dictators aka Asma Assad, who is currently reported to be holed up in her bomb shelter on an online shopping spree. No joke. I just can’t seem to get the images of the lifeless children and white body bagged aftermath of the sarin gas attacks out of my head.
My husband and I had met Sammy, a host at a popular Greek restaurant, when we went out for a long overdue date night back in February.
Assuming he was Greek I asked where he was from. Syria was not the answer I expected. “Oh! I thought you were Greek!” I exclaimed and asked him how he ended up in Johannesburg.
“Well,” Sammy explained, “we had to leave Syria. They bombed our furniture factory in Homs, we had no more livelihood. I decided I needed to take my family to a safe place. I worked here in South Africa 10 years ago so I knew the country. I knew I could find work. We have been here for only a few months but my wife speaks no English. I have two small daughters and my mother is with us. I am working 15-hour shifts to support my family.”
My heart immediately went out to his poor wife, isolated even more than I had been during my first few months in South Africa. “How is your wife holding up?” I asked. “She is having a terrible time, besides the English, she has not heard from her family in 4 months. The phone lines are down. There is no internet. She does not know who is dead and who is alive.” Sammy’s voice shook with emotion.
Really, I had so much to say after that share I did not even know where to begin. My heart was breaking for this beautiful family. I felt kinship with Sammy, his wife, their story. For it is my story, it is the story of the human experience. The story of pain and loss, of heartbreak and unknown. The story of courage and survival. The story of being burned and rising from the ashes. The story of death and renewal at all costs.
And there was the Middle East connection as well. This conversation with Sammy, for me, was a breath of fresh air. Sammy, my Syrian neighbour- we are from the same ‘hood. Just being in his presence was comforting; it was a homecoming in the urban jungle of Johannesburg.
I looked across from the table at my husband, whose eyes were sparkling. He knew what I was about to say.
“Sammy,” I said with a nervous chuckle, “I want to tell you something”. Sammy was looking at me expectantly, but also with a curiously knowing glance.
“I am from Israel”.
After a short pause Sammy exclaimed “I know!” and smiled, “I could tell”.
I was so moved I got up from the table and gave Sammy a huge hug, both of us with tears in our eyes as we parted.
I often find that people become people again when we are pushed just beyond the confines of our own national rhetoric- just beyond the boiling point.
The human heart is able to connect, wants to so deeply and does so very easily.
It is simply breathtaking.
On the eve of this Jewish New Year, my deepest prayer is for the emergence of a new story of the human experience. I pray that the fear of the unknown does not pull us back into old archetypal patterns.
This new story could begin with peace, inshallah.
Blessings for newness in 5774.