A few days ago, I went to cash some checks at a change-place in downtown Jerusalem. Cashing checks outside the bank is legal in Israel, and there are a few reputable establishments around Zion Square. One well known place, "Kent", is owned by Sephardic Jews and they recently decorated their store – which had moved to a new location – with many large, quality pictures of famous rabbis such as the Baba Sali and the Lubavitcher Rebbe and others.
Standing in line, after conducting a cell phone conversation in English, I was addressed by an American lady who was waiting to exchange her dollars into shekel...
"Rabbi pictures in a change place – that doesn't seem appropriate," she told me, with a look of disapproval, a scrunched up nose and a head shake. "It doesn't fit, you know, money and Rabbis."
At first I didn't grasp what she meant. Trying to understand what experiences she might be drawing from, I suddenly realized – she was concerned about the Christian stigma of Jews as money lenders, penny pinchers, and crook-nosed bankers, and did not want the perception she acutely avoided in America to be promulgated by this Israeli and very Jewish establishment. The rabbis on the walls coupled with unabashed money dealings made her feel uncomfortable.
I was taken aback. I did not expect anyone to feel this way about the common practice of rabbi pictures in sefardic establishments. I said to her without any trace of Zionist snobbishness: "Ma'am, we are no longer beholden to the prejudices of two-thousand years in which the nations stereotyped us with hateful libels. We simply do not worry about those things anymore. We don't think of ourselves as Shylocks and we do not look over our shoulder to concern ourselves with 'what will the nations say?' We are in downtown Jerusalem, our Jerusalem! This establishment is reputable, and the owners are sefardi, and they like this style. So why not have rabbis on the walls? What do we have to be embarrassed of?" I asked.
So far, a typical downtown Jerusalem conversation. But this is where it became amazing. After my little soliloquy, the nice American lady thought for a moment and surprisingly replied: "Oh… I guess you are right." And after thinking for about another ten seconds more she said: "Yes, you're right, and maybe these rabbis bring a blessing to this place."
Oh my G-d! Did you see that? Did you catch the miracle? Well, let me explain it in any case:
When this fine lady first came to the change-place, she was repelled by what she saw. She was repelled because she was seeing the store through the lens of the Jewish experience of the last two-thousand years of exile. She was utilizing the thoughts Jews had honed in places like Lodz, and Kiev, Bagdad and Tripoli. These Exilic fears are ever-present even in minds of the emancipated Jews of North America. In short, she was looking at the change-place with Exile-eyes which is why she felt uncomfortable with the rabbi/money nexus.
However, this same lady, who until a moment ago was still in the grips of the Exilic mindset, was able, over the course of a short conversation, to completely change her perspective from one of Galut (exile) to one of Geula (redemption)! She had an epiphany, a realization, a change of heart, an understanding, or what I call a shift in polarity. Only a short time ago, her Jewish soul was set to Exile-polarity, worrying about what the gentiles think, not recognizing that she stood in the heart of the miracle, downtown Jerusalem. Now, her soul awakened to the fact that she was part of a proud nation that has returned home, and that we have our own language, our own culture and our own heroes. The rabbis on the wall became not a source of shame, but a source pride, maybe even blessing.
Most importantly, the American lady suddenly felt free, free of prejudices and fear, free to be a Jew in Jerusalem and Israel. That is a miracle.
Most of us are stuck in the Exile. Heck, most of Israel and certainly the government of the State of Israel is stuck in the Exile. We just can't wrap our minds around the reality that the period of accommodation, pandering, and shame has ended. Our nation acts like a pathetic court-Jew trying to please the Duke or the Tzar, or the Pope, always acquiescing or bowing to international pressure.
Many of us think that Jerusalem and Israel are nothing but the same Exile in a slightly superior geography. How many times have you heard (or even said) "We are still in exile." That may be convenience talking, or it may be fear talking, but that is not G-d talking. Downtown Jerusalem is not Exile. Indeed, the only thing that is still in Exile is our brains. That has to change.
What gave me so much heart from my conversation with the American women is the speed at which she was able to assimilate a new consciousness. Her soul was willing o accept the truth, but her mind was not yet able. However, once her mind was freed her soul flew, allowing her to finally enjoy the fruits of redemption.
Wars, the ingathering of the exiles, and the establishment of the state were all amazing steps in redemption - but now the movement needs a second wind. The time has come for a new consciousness and a new awakening. It is time to take up the mantle of building our Jewish homeland and making it all it can and wants to be. All it takes is a change in mental polarity. If you're stuck in old-world Exile-thinking, go to the change-place in downtown Jerusalem, maybe the rabbis there can help you too.