July 31, 2015

The food truck options were plentiful and I was getting confused. Did I want to go clean and combat Portland’s famous Salt and Straw ice cream extravaganza from the night before, or continue down the comfort food road and choose some messy, burrito type paradise?

As I mulled over this choice, complicated by the precious little cash I had in my wallet, my eyes fixed on the happenings at the truck in front of me. A nice looking man, round my age, stood politely waiting his turn. He asked the rather swarthy young man running this gyro truck if there might be any food to spare. The server smiled easily and rounded up a gigantic pita stuffed with every vegetable and falafel ball I imagined were still in his truck, topped it off with some sauces, and handed it to the surprised man with a Sprite and a straw. “Wow, thanks so much,” was the genuine reply of the needy man.

I was so touched by this interchange, by the humanity the request and offering played out. There seemed to be no judgment on the part of the giver and no demand or expectation on the part of the request. I was taking all this in when the handsome worker asked me my order. Well, I thought, my choice was clear. I could not insult this nice man by choosing elsewhere now that I had spent so much time in front of his menu, and I genuinely wanted to spend my money on his stand if only to give back a bit of what he generously gave.

I actually was not crazy about his choices, so I just told him how much money I had, and asked him to make me something tasty. He liked that. And I liked his smile. I asked him suddenly where he was from. “Baghdad,” was his light reply.

And suddenly it became even more clear my attention for him. “My dad is also from Baghdad,” I smiled back. I then muttered all the Arabic phrases I knew from my childhood’s insistence on hearing my Dad speak this seemingly dangerous language, and my new friend’s face burst into a gleeful tornado of giggles and grins.

We kinda stared at each other. He looked just like the pictures of my Dad at that young age. Handsome and dark, with that look of deep confidence that is possessed by a person who just knows himself from birth. Maybe it is that kind of inner contentedness that allows certain people to be so unfailingly generous to others in need.

I took a bite of his concoction. Delicious. A perfect combination of flavors. “Five dollars,” he said. I narrowed my eyes- was it really so cheap I wondered, or did he want to leave me that one dollar in my wallet just in case. But I didn’t ask- I knew pride plays a large role for these Middle Eastern men and I did not want to question his decision. I thanked him, and walked away.

As I sat and ate, I flashed to a time and place that this interchange could NOT have happened. A Jewish woman being served by an Arabic boy. These are the boys we see on the news sometimes, the ones shown throwing rocks at Israeli cars. The ones who get beaten by Jewish fundamentalists. This relationship is fraught with confusion, and for a person like me, a deep familiarity served up with a healthy dose of distrust.

But it happened nonetheless, in this Portland, Oregon alley, and I am better for it. I hold it in my immediate memory bank of forgiveness and gratitude this full week later, and offer it up for peace to us all on this Shabbat.

In gratitude,


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