Divine Appointments

Baha'i Gardens and HaifaOn my second day in Israel, I sought my own peace. My plan was to meditate at Baha’i Gardens in Haifa, renowned for its beauty. A Baha’i friend described to me years ago in Toronto; today I can finally see it.

With ample time, I adventurously decide to travel by bus and train. While I feel illiterate in this land of signs that I can’t even decipher the letters of, friendly Israelis explain that I need bus #5, not 5A. As the minutes — and 3 more 5A buses go by — I get anxious about time.

At the train station, trusting that hand signs and “Haifa” sufficed to buy me a return ticket that I can’t read, I realise that I just missed the train. My anxiety increases. I counteract it by thanking God for missing the train, praying that God will redeem the time with divine appointments.

The youngest soldier I’ve ever seen drops his pack in front of me. Unused to seeing soldiers, especially ones who look like teenagers, I try not to be obvious in my stare.

“Hello,” I say, hoping this is a divine appointment. I would love to talk to an Israeli soldier.

“Hi,” he says, looking away. This clearly isn’t the divine appointment.

More soldiers arrive, drinking coffee, checking their phones, laughing. In street clothes they’d look like normal teenagers embarking on an adventure. In reality, they’re embarking on much, much more.

The next train arrives. I settle into a seat across from another soldier. Petite, probably 18 years old, she looks like she should have no cares beyond school and boyfriends. Instead, she’s responsible for the security of a country in conflict.

“Is there just one station in Haifa?,” I ask. No, there are three, and she’s getting off at the same one as me. A young soldier settles in beside her and they start talking in Hebrew. My mind is free to read and reflect. What does mandatory military service in an active conflict do to the soul? The country? Does it keep the peace, or does the very act of trying to keep peace by force destroy it?



“Does the military keep the peace, or does the very act of trying to keep peace by force destroy it?”

 

On the train home, Tova and I embrace before she descends at her stop. We embrace again, to emphasise the warmth between us. I feel blessed to have met her. An older social worker, she is very proud of having served her country as a radar operator. She echoed the thoughts I had just written:

“We are human. We love people. We are a warm, hospitable people. It is because of our experience – we’ve suffered, and know what it’s like. We quickly know whom we can embrace, and who we have to protect ourselves from.”

Exactly. If you feel safe, you can embrace a stranger in half an hour. You can relax, enjoy, talk, laugh. You feel like you’ve met a kindred spirit, although you’re from different countries, language and religion.

 

“If you feel safe, you can embrace a kindred spirit, although you’re from different countries, language and religion.”

 

“We are human.” I’ll have to look that up in Hebrew and Arabic. People from both languages have said that in the last two days. In North America, being human connotes fallibility, but here it connotes humanity, generosity, embracing others. Tova exemplified this warmth.

I thank God for Tova, and my day. I met my divine appointment, and spoke with a soldier.