Israel First Impressions: The Hassidim

Bonnie and I traveled to Israel today. At least I think it's still today. The time change has me so confused that I'm not really sure how long I've been awake, although I can testify that it's been a long time. So understand that I'm writing this when I'm not my best.

That being said, my first impressions so far of the Israeli people are somewhat surprising to me. I knew that flying EL AL, the official airline of the state of Israel, would be a unique experience. I understood that the dietary restrictions of the orthodox and the singular prayer garb and habits of the Hassidim, those hatted and bearded black-frocked decedents of the Pharisees, would attract my attention. What I was unprepared for was how little attention we attracted of theirs.

The EL AL brochure made us aware that on their flights people like to get up and move around. A lot. But, hey, no problem, right? I mean, it's a long flight, it's hard to stay in those cells of little ease the whole way, and if they are friendly (as the glossy publication assured), then it will be fun. Based on my admittedly limited familiarity with EL AL and it's patrons, the reality, or at least the reality I experienced on this flight is different than the advertised.

It's not that the Hassidim were unfriendly, exactly. This would be too harsh. Those things that I and my culture consider rude—-bumping into people without the obligatory "excuse me," for example--might not be considered rude other places. Even in the states, try exercising normal modes of courtesy while endeavoring to procure public conveyance in Chicago and you'll be left standing on the platform--indefinitely.

Nor was it their overweening sense of entitlement. After all, this is their country. At least this is how I rationalized it to myself. Nor was it their desire to be separate from those around them. This, after all, is what the Law commanded. They were to remain different from the rest of the nations.

No, after thinking about this and chatting with my travel companions, it was their unspoken but nevertheless real sense of superiority to all other life that was peculiar, and by the end of the flight, annoying. As I said, they were never rude chiefly because they didn't speak. They didn't make eye contact except in quick furtive glances. So when they walked around the plane (which they did regularly) they weren't impolite or disparaging primarily because they didn't acknowledge our existence. We were the ottoman in the center of the room that must be maneuvered around and really should be moved when given the chance. We were non-persons in their eyes.

It quickly became apparent why so many people dislike them.

That being said, I am chastened when I remember that these are a part of God's ancient covenant people. His love has never been taken from them. And even though they are the spiritual offspring of those so harshly condemned by Jesus, God has promised one day to take out of them their heart of stone and replace it with a heart of flesh. Thus, even as they remain in rebellion against their promised Messiah and King, I should take on the mind of Christ and respond in love. When they act like the rest of fallen humanity, they shouldn't be singled out for special scorn. They remain God's beloved people. Which means they should be my beloved people as well.