There is an Arab in my House Holding a Knife

There is an Arab in my House Holding a Knife

At this moment, a few steps away from me, there is an Arab from East Jerusalem holding a knife.

Don’t worry though, it’s just Achmed*, my contractor’s lovely electrician! I’ve gotten to know him a bit over the last half a year of renovations on our new home, and he’s a really nice guy who jokes around with my husband, tells me my baby is cute, and can even send SMSs in nearly perfect Hebrew.

I trust him 100%!

Well maybe not 100%…More like 91%. Or maybe 88%?

I guess that 9% (or 12%) of distrust/fear is the reason I moved the kitchen knives from the countertop to the wine drawer before he came over? ‭

Earlier this morning, Achmed reminded me, “You know, you still owe me money for the lights I installed a few weeks ago.”

Oy, I had forgotten…”Of course, I can pay you right away!”

“You can pay me when I’m all done with everything. I’m not worried,” his smile nice and friendly. Lovely Achmed.

“You know where to find me!” I quipped, my hands indicating the freshly-painted walls of our new home.

“But maybe now, with everything going on, you’ll be moving back to America?” Achmed asked.

I looked closer at Achmed’s face and saw he was serious.

Would he be happy if the violence drove us away? Fewer Jews in Palestine?

Would he be sad if we left? He sort of liked us after all these months fiddling with our electrical wires?

Would he be jealous if we left? If he had a US passport, he would move to Queens quicker than he could say “Salaam Aleikum?”

And then I thought of all the things I wanted to explain to Achmed…

I thought of the blood-soaked intifada 15 years ago, and how we lived through 4 terrifying years. And never thought once of leaving Israel.

I thought of my house full of sabras who love this country with a passion. They would never ever agree to leave Israel, no matter what.

I thought of all of my ancestors who dreamed and prayed for over a thousand years to live and walk this Land, like my family and I merit to do every single day. ‮

But all I told Achmed was, “No, we’re not leaving.”

And I looked at his face and realized that my heart was as foreign to him and his was to me.
A moment ago, Achmed finished his work and wished me well, “Tishmri al Atsmech!” Take care of yourself. And I wished him the same. Sincerely.

And then I locked the door behind him and reached into my wine drawer and placed my knives back on the kitchen counter.

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Milwaukee Spring: Reflections on Passover by Yonina Schlussel
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The Shema Yisrael Bus


  1. “it was as foreign to him”…..because you did NOT take the time to let him know what you let us know…and i simply dont understand why not. missed opportunity. big one. but probably not too late.

  2. Sherri- I think channa did great. We are worlds apart. They will never understand, or won’t want to.

  3. This is so real. Thank you for being honest and sharing the horrible situation of sometimes mistrusting good people, sometimes trusting bad people (the Bezek employee terrorist) and not knowing how to distinguish between them.

  4. Chana Jenny, this essay of yours brought home the true tension and ugliness of the situation more than anything else I have read. The way you went from trusting him 100 percent to realizing you had somehow decided to put away the knives…
    Wishing you strength and may G-d protect.

  5. Quite frankly, you have far more in common with Achmed than you do with my husband who is from an orthodox Jewish family AND studied in a lubavitch school, but does not believe in God, let alone in mitzvahs and brachas. I presume he is a practicing Muslim so you both believe in G-d. You can communicate in the same language.

    Most importantly, you live in the same country,share the same supermarkets, parks and living spaces. You do not simply share a community, you share an Israel and eat apples that were grown on the same tree, sprung from the same soil. You may even share similar problems with regard to rising costs of living, the challenges of raising a young family, the tussle between modernity and religious obligation.

    Like you once wrote, Israel is a dysfunctional family but still a family nonetheless. Maybe with all the bitterness , violence and bloodshed that is going on, it is hard to conceive of the Arabs as family but they are a part of Israel. They are not just terrorists, they are your electrians, your cleaners, your politicians, your writers. They are the mothers struggling to balance a stroller with 100000 bags of shopping, they are the fathers weeping over the loss of sons. In short, they are human. Just like you and I.

    Rabbi Yehoshua Engelmann once wrote that
    In the case of a unsolved murder of a wandering traveller, the Talmud insists that, in order for the elders to lay claim to their own innocence, they need to be able to make the following statement: “We did not see him off without providing food for the journey for him, nor did we allow him to leave without being accompanied”. Indeed, it was the view of the Maimonides that if the town did not send messengers to accompany the transient wayfarer, they would be guilty of murder. Rabbi Engelmann even goes as far to say that if a traveller is not afforded the measure of self respect and honour he deserves, then the town would be guilty of turning the traveller into a potential murderer even if they did provide him with sustenance. If there is such a high standard accorded to the lone traveller, what more of people who live in your vicinity?

    Perhaps the chronic lack of understanding is no one’s fault but simply because it is a religious conflict and the lack of consensus as to who Israel belongs to is an insurmountable barrier and hindrance to common human empathy and understanding. Add in terrorism and divisive politics, and you have a recipe for disaster. However, even families disagree on the most fundamental of beliefs, and in my opinion that does not make them less of a family. Even a child, the same one that sprung from my womb and listened to the murmur of my heart and the rush of my blood could potentially grow up and not share my religious beliefs. I can douse him or her with holy water and hang rosaries from the ears, but ultimately, I cannot force my child to believe something that his or her conscience does not agree with. As Kahlil Gibran wrote, you can give a child your love but not your thoughts for they have their own thoughts. If you cannot change your own child, how can anyone possibly hope to change someone else’s firm religious convictions?

    But we can agree to treat each other as family despite everything else.We can see each other as G-d’s marvelous creation, fearfully and wonderfully made. We can try to understand each other and try to trust in and lean on each other, because that is what families do. Even when the going gets tough.

    • Thank you for taking the time to write this heartfelt comment. It is so true that we can not control or dictate the thoughts of our children….We hope to inspire them by the life we lead but ultimately the choice is theirs. And as you say we still are family. May we all see nachas from all our family members and live peacefully with all our neighbors.

  6. Btw i forgot, Shabbat Shalom. And i really love all your posts on your adorable children!

  7. “the lack of consensus as to who Israel belongs to is an insurmountable barrier”

    I don’t understand why you say this, Sandra
    didn’t G-d give this land to the Jews?

    • Shocking, simply shocking. The wording of the Balfour Declaration says it all, Sandra: To REINSTATE the Jewish Homeland. REINSTATE: meaning that it was there before, the Jews were the original sovereign rulers of the the land historically. Which history? The one that the ENTIRE world agrees on, including the non-jews: THE BIBLE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Our entire modern political reason for being here is based on the fact that we are returning to our (sorry to say this) G-D GIVEN sovereign historical land.

      It seems that only certain streams of jews find the biblical references to our sovereignty distasteful.The rest of the world takes it for face value. Unfortunately today we ignore our superior claims to the land by referring only to “modern” political intervention (incorrectly, mostly): whilst the Palestinians who are a modern political invention for the sake of destroying Israel are the ones who preach centuries of historical rights.

      We are paying a heavy price for ignoring our biblical, historical, sovereign, political, and YES, religious rights to our land. And if you are going to preach modern politics, please, get it right!!!!!!!

  8. “we can agree to treat each other as family”

    I do understand and support the concept of family loyalty. I do cut a LOT of slack for my family members, after all, this is my family. but then, according to halacha (and common sense), there are some things that we don’t tolerate, even from family

    for example, a man who has abused his daughter for years when she was little is NOT entitled to kibud av from her when he grows old. the fact that he tortured and murdered her little soul took away his status as father. he is simply a murderer.

    so too the Arabs have forfeited the role of family with us. when you stab babies in their cribs, you are no longer my brother, even if you once were.

    Sandra, thank you for writing, and you obviously care a lot. I appreciate that you wrote.

  9. Chana Jenny,
    I lived through the terror attack in Maale Michmas where the ‘nice, friendly Arab contractor’ came back to murder Danny Frye (of blessed memory) and stab his pregnant wife, trying to kill her. If he had known their children were in the next room, they too would have been murdered!
    We only use Jewish labor. Yes, sometimes it costs more, but you’re supporting Jews.
    Arab labor is not worth the risk to our lives!

    • i remember that murder, had no idea it was their contractor. horrific…In our case, I don’t think we have a choice. Our (jewish) contractor chooses whom to work with.

      • WRONG WRONG WRONG!!!!!!!!!!!



        You are the client, he is providing you a service, NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND.
        If at any time you are uncomfortable with anything at all, or anyone, for WHATEVER reason, but especially now, then speak up. If your contractor refuses to do as you ask: GET ANOTHER CONTRACTOR!!!!!

        If anything, it’s time we showed the arabs that we can get along just fine without them!!!

  10. @Rishe The lack of consensus between Jews and Arabs. God giving the land to the Jews is a religious argument and while it is a valid argument, it doesn’t mean anything to non-Jews. Which is kinda important considering that the other side are not Jews. I would instead argue that Israel has the right to exist on historical grounds I.e. Palestine was a British colony and the land was granted to the Jews as a homeland, hence the modern state of Israel. The Palestinians can argue that their land was taken away, but frankly how many times in history have people been displaced this way? For example, you don’t see overseas chinese returning to China to demand for their ancestors’ land (which was bought with the hard earned money that they earned abroad) that was confiscated when the communists gained power in 1949,around the same time the Palestinians left. Those descendants of overseas chinese might be ethnically chinese but have no claim to either chinese citizenship or land that their grandparents might have owned. It is the same for the Palestinians, though they do not seem to accept that citizenship is territorial and does not have the ability to transcend generations. No one is entitled to live anywhere just because their grandma lived there, barring in exceptional circumstances. Arabs who live in israel have a right to citizenship and all the rights associated with it but the Arabs out do not, even though they do have a right to peace, human dignity and a state of their own.
    I think its more helpful for Jews to use such arguments rather than religious ones because Palestinians will just start tossing out pictures of their grandma’s house in haifa and pretty pictures of the British mandate of Palestine, superimposed against pictures of dead babies and bombed out buildings with some soulful Mahmoud darwish quote. The World thinks oh yes they were driven out of their land and it’s so sad, conveniently forgetting that most of the people in Palestine weren’t even born then. This is why they are winning the media war and no one seems to like Israel. It isn’t just anti-Semitism.

  11. @Rishe thank you for your 2nd comment, Ridge. I often read Jewish blogs to understand the environment that my husband grew up in, as well as for halakcha advice when I stay over at my husband’s family home. I have accidentally bought drinks which contain grapes, forgotten that haribos are not kosher, worn pants to shul and thrown away the family’s toilet paper squares because no one told me that you can’t tear toilet paper on Shabbat and i could not imagine what they were for. As u can see, I have a lot to learn! I guess its hard with all the terrorism attacks but I pray one day there will be peace.

  12. I won’t give all the details because I am not sure that I have permission. The daughter of a friend of mine worked for many years with an Arab in a public institution in Jerusalem (where there are many other Arab employees). Everyone who worked with this particular Arab agreed that he was the nicest, kindest guy ever and no one had any complaints about him. He did his job well and with caring, working much of the time with children that this institution served.
    One day, a member of this gentle, kind Arab’s family needed help getting into Jewish areas in order to commit a terror attack. He (the terrorist) went inside the “gentle” Arab’s car so that the “gentle” Arab could help him. Thankfully, they were stopped at a surprise checkpoint. The terrorist told the “gentle” Arab to press on the gas and try to power his way through the checkpoint and the “gentle” Arab was killed.
    Halacha requires us to treat goyim pleasantly, not embarrass them, etc. but I would never trust an Arab.

  13. Years ago, I used to live in a small out-of-town in Israel, where there were quite a few Arab neighbors. “Some of my best friends…”My greengrocer was one of them– he even had 2 wives, the older one in full regalia. His older sons used to be the delivery boys and also took care of weeding my yard.And were the most popular boys in the nearby low socio-economic neighborhood… His younger wife was real chummy and used to tell me about her family problems, and was the first one to bring me a present when I had a baby. Then one day, they all disappeared: the 16yr old had been insulted by a fellow Arab at the factory where he worked. The 18 yr old was sent to take revenge. The 1st time the father decided the revenge was too mild. So the son went back with a knife and killed a fellow Arab over an insult. The police had to evacuate both families, lest clan warfare should ensue. We never ever saw them again. I still shudder remembering how horrified I felt that a murderer had frequented my home, that the father who always seemed so nice and considerate would send his son out again to take such drastic revenge. So I am no longer surprised when I hear of erstwhile “gentle” Arabs, even women and little children, thrilling to kill.

  14. I would like to add something, if I may.
    I said (above) that I cut a lot of slack for my family.
    They cut me a lot of slack, too!
    It goes both ways.

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