Uri Ayalon Reports on Street Retreat in Tel Aviv
From the blog of Uri Ayalon
translated by Ruth Bar-Eden
My father thinks I’m crazy. That’s nothing new. Only a crazy person could claim that capitalism is not a directive from heaven; that giving and sharing are man’s basic instincts; and that a life of self-examination, study, and change are better than a life of habit and comfort.
On Yom Kippur I went on a journey in the southern part of Tel-Aviv with no money, no mobile, and no sleeping bag, and with a group of twenty other crazy people (led by Rabbi Ohad Ezrachi and Zen teacher Bernie Glassman, may they each live long years for the magic they bring to this world with courage and humility), who gathered for three days of homelessness–by–choice. What a strange choice: Those with a home, food and money are playing a game of poverty and begging? Les miserables de-shmates.
Yes, how important it is to let go of privilege once in a while. How important to let go in general, to reveal the abundance that lies just beyond the mountains of fear. I already knew that the detritus from our culture of excess feeds different lifestyles, but what I learned about in this journey is the texture of the garbage, walking in it barefoot, being touched by it to the very core. Smelling it, drinking it, and not running away.
On the first evening I went to get French fries in the restaurants of the Central Bus Station. There I met Sharon: born in Georgia, formerly of the USSR, studied medicine, and found herself on the streets due to a combination of schizophrenia, drug and alcohol addiction, and a love story that turned into a war. Her daughter was taken from her by child protective services at the age of four. Now she’s pregnant again, carrying the child of a Sudanese. She accompanied us throughout the days with captivating humor and intelligence, taught us the location of the fountain with the best water and where we would find cartons to use as mattresses.
Yasser from Sudan joined us, completely drunk. Shachar is an Ethiopian who hates all whites and therefore feels at home only in Lewinski Park [center of the area occupied by African migrants]. Yael was raped by her brother when she was 12 and then thrown out of her home by her shamefaced family. On a night tour I saw the prostitutes in the street. Shriveled due to heroin, they looked so old and snuffed out that my heart went out to them and their lost clients.
How does my work, my life’s mission, answer Sharon’s needs, Yasser’s, Yael’s? My friend Omer, a lawyer, used to ask me this question, emphasizing that his work at least brings about the release from custody of about two Africans on average each week. And what do I do? Play at building models? Hope or believe that thirty people living in peace, truth and trust can change this world?
During this weekend I saw the end of the road: the dead-end of the age of capitalism and the nationalist country. I am delusional and crazy and naïve and pathetic, but I’m also really curious to understand the logic that transformed southern Tel-Aviv into Little Africa. What are our social, health and cultural services that brought them here? What is the resolution to this complex situation other than rebuilding from scratch the entire system—borders, values, social structures? You who are corrupt, you’ve become abhorrent! It’s time for a total change.
Together with Sharon, we were the only whites in a radius of miles. On the eve of Yom Kippur, this most holy and sanctified day, I walked into a neighborhood synagogue in Lewinski Park, which has become a home for me (in fact, going to the fancy Rothschild Boulevard was a real challenge), and in that synagogue, of all places, I again witnessed verbal violence (editor note: an altercation occurred when the cantor arrived 30 minutes after the service started. The man substituting for the cantor yelled at the cantor for coming late. The cantor yelled at the man for starting the service too early. This continued for about 15 minutes.) surrounding rules and formalities between the cantor and the other congregants. I felt much less welcome there than in the Park’s corner.
On this Yom Kippur I found myself broken, crying, shattered. And this is one of the gifts I take with me from this journey—not only a renewed faith in the mandate to create a socio-economic model for a new kind of society, a viable alternative to our current drowning one; not only an improved awareness that I can live without the addictions and fears that have previously attached themselves to me; not only the ever-deepening love of the community and the magic it offers (the courage to cross boundaries, together)—I remain with this gift of the broken heart.
I suspend the rage and befriend the pain. I remain in the place of not-knowing which contains the suffering, pain, and injustice.
And I continue on.
Together with them.
To read a more detailed view of this street retreat, link here.