My day job brings me into frequent contact with members of other faiths, as I try to build bridges and alliances on behalf of Jewish interests. One of the first things I learned was how people with serious religious convictions have an easier time relating to Orthodox Jews – who believe in right and wrong, take Scripture seriously, and believe that G-d should be the focal point of their universe – than to non-observant Jews. I also learned – to my chagrin! – that I had an easier time making conversation with serious Christians than with my own Jewish brothers. I was still delightfully surprised by the secondt excerpt below, taken from an interview with Ishmael Khaldi on Aish.com
Khaldi grew up in a Bedouin village, and used the opportunities granted by the Israeli educational system to gain advanced degrees after serving in the IDF. I first became aware of his work when he served as a deputy Consul at the Israeli Consulate in San Francisco. Without saying anything, hi very position effectively counteracted the charge that Israel is a “racist apartheid” state; when he did speak, it was with wisdom. This is how he handled the issue of present inequities in the allocation of resources to the Arab population:
“There are African American diplomats representing the United States – now there is an African American president – but that doesn’t mean discrimination does not exist in America,” says Khaldi. “It also doesn’t mean that, because there is discrimination, African Americans should wash their hands of their country of birth.”
Furthermore, says Khaldi, given that the U.S. is 234 years old, and Israel is a mere 62 (plagued by external threats, massive immigration, and internal tumult), the status of minorities in Israel is way ahead of the curve, particularly compared with the treatment of minorities in neighboring Arab countries.
But it is details of his personal journey that I found most intriguing:
Most Bedouin struggle between a desire to embrace modernity and at the same time preserve their heritage and customs. Khaldi is no exception. “In a lot of ways I am stuck between worlds,” he says. “We are a very traditional and conservative people, and it is difficult for us to integrate, particularly into modern, secular, liberal mainstream Israeli society.”
Interestingly, it is for this reason that Khaldi says he feels most comfortable in the company of religious Jews, whose culture and values tend to be much more conservative.
Khaldi recalls when he first landed at JFK International Airport, where he was shocked to be met by such a chaotic mix of people and graffiti, and cars and jet engines. “All at once, my exhaustion and anxiety broke open. I felt like the world was collapsing around me, and I cried like an orphan newborn lamb whose mother had just died,” he writes.
Then suddenly, like a bolt of lightning, he spotted a Hassid in the terminal, on the floor above him. “My heart swelled and my mood brightened immediately. I felt as if I had been lost at sea and suddenly spotted a beacon of light,” he writes. It was that Hassid that pointed him in the direction of Borough Park, Brooklyn, where he quickly found refuge with another Hassidic family.
This incident is now part of a book that Khaldi (now serving as a political advisor to Avigdor Lieberman) has written about his life’s story. It is yet another reminder of the enormous capacity for both Kiddush Hashem and chilul Hashem that inheres in a world of instant communication.