January 14, 2020
By: Meira Weber
In Israel, there is an endearing yet perplexing tradition of calling complete strangers “achi” – “my brother.” I used to think it was funny, like a sarcastic, ingratiating nickname someone would use when they were trying to get on another person’s good side. It took me a long time to realize that Israelis were actually speaking in earnest when they called the stranger at the coffee-shop “my brother.” Somehow the bus driver, checkout clerk, government official, tour guide, soldier, barista, and even I were all brothers and sisters.
The first time I said it, I felt weird. Out of place. I was in the checkout line at the supermarket, and the clerk rubbed his eyes tiredly as he mechanically scanned item after item. I practiced the words to myself, wanting to be absolutely sure that I sounded casual: Shalom, achi. Hey, brother. Shalom, achi.
The woman in front of me collected her bags and her receipt, and suddenly it was my turn. Before I began to load my produce onto the belt, I looked straight at the clerk, smiled, and squeaked out, “Hey, brother!”
The effect was immediate. A huge smile grew across his face, and the clerk seemed to light up just a bit. “Hey, sister,” he replied. Just like that, a connection was forged. This stranger might as well have been my own biological brother. We didn’t even know each other’s names, but we were brother and sister. We chatted lightly as I bagged up my groceries, and I waved as I left the store.
The more I said it, the more I began to feel it, and that confused me at first. These aren’t my real brothers, I’d say to myself. They’re strangers. But there was something even more confusing about calling everyone I met “my brother” or “my sister.” The confusing part was that after a while living here in Israel, I actually felt like those connections were real. I felt as though the country was peopled with my very own long-lost siblings, family members who didn’t know me but would smile at me, protect me, take care of me, without a moment’s hesitation. Everyone was friendly and kind, willing to take a few minutes out of their day to give me directions, correct my Hebrew, even to invite me over for Shabbat. It amazed me. Look how many brothers and sisters I have!
The first summer of my Aliyah saw the kidnap and murder of Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaar, and Eyal Yifrah, and Operation Protective Edge began. Reservists from every corner of Israel were called up to defend the Israeli people, and tens of thousands of my brothers and sisters attended the funeral for the three boys, mourning right alongside the boys’ families. But there was no distinction between “their” family and “our” families – we were one family. One family, mourning the murder of our brothers.
The familial connection that I see between Israelis now is almost a tangible thing, like a web of sparks flitting between people, traveling between handshakes and smiles and calls of “Hey, brother!” It’s one of the reasons why parents feel perfectly comfortable sending their young kids on the bus by themselves, because of course all the other people on the bus will look out for them. It’s why, even as threats assail us from every border, and sometimes from within our borders, inside our communities there is a bubble of security that I have yet to see anywhere else. Children play pick-up games of soccer and basketball in the streets, mothers push their babies in strollers without a care in the world, and it’s not uncommon to see kids as young as seven or eight years old sent to the corner shops to pick up a forgotten food item or buy themselves a snack. Even amidst the terror attacks and the rockets, I have never felt unsafe.
We look out for each other, and that feeling of knowing someone always has your back is a huge comfort. But every Jew in Judea and Samaria is dealing with two contradictory realities at the same time. We live in our safe and secure bubble, protected by our brothers and sisters, but just beyond that bubble, we are surrounded by hostile Arab villages where terrorists plot how to infiltrate our communities and attempt to murder our children. These very real threats mean that we need surveillance cameras to help us keep watch. It means that we need to create rapid response teams, and those rapid responders need high-tech radios to stay in close contact with each other in case something happens. It means that we need emergency equipment, fire-fighting equipment, search and rescue equipment, and advanced security equipment. It means that we need help.
You are the one who can help.
My brothers are in Hermesh, walled in on all sides by Palestinians and unable to expand. My brothers are in Revava, guarding their homes and public buildings from theft. They are in Rechalim, in Karnei Shomorn, and in Zufim. They are everywhere, and they are giving everything they have to protect their families and their communities.
For centuries, we only had our brothers and sisters to lean on. Today, in this time of Restoration and Redemption, you, our Christian friends, are protecting us. You have been there for the people of the Biblical Heartland in the past. You have donated radio networks and surveillance cameras and protective helmets. You have supplied us with emergency medical equipment and patrol vans; you have given us the peace of mind and the fortitude necessary to hold on to this land. We are overwhelmed with our gratitude to you – you are saving the lives of my brothers. And I hope you will continue to do so.
From my family to yours – thank you.