‘When Reality Fades Away’ By Henriette Chacar, Israel

What if our world isn’t real?

Do you believe in an alternative universe? What if our most critical decisions, and the ideals we value the most…are simply a trivial choice determined by an alien being that’s playing the Martian version of “The Sims”, with us as its imaginary characters? Crazy, right?!

I could swear to you though, the other day, I honestly felt like I tripped into a different reality. It started with my being ready on time. Let’s just say that punctuality and me are like oil and water; the only time we intersect is when there’s pasta involved. But that morning was different – it was my alternative-universe self.

You see, we had to wake up early to catch the train for the Tel Aviv marathon. It was the first time for my 7 year old cousin and his friends to participate, and so I was recruited to take pictures of the event for the family album. When we arrived to the station, we noticed other groups wearing the marathon t-shirt. “Wow, that’s really impressive that you are participating at such a young age! Keep it up, kids!” said the lady behind us in line. Usually, people who mobilize using public transportation are too busy to notice other people around them.

I guess something about the shared uniform made that lady interact with us that day. We were all going to the same place, to accomplish the same purpose. Another sign of an alternative universe. As a minority member, I got used to being on the margins. National holidays are far from being a festival we could gather around or take pride in, and so we must constantly seek elsewhere to establish a sense of camaraderie with the majority. And yet here it was: A collective experience similar to national events in form, but not in substance. It united the entire public, regardless of age, religion, race, gender or political orientation.

My cousin and his friends had a great time, and in this hype of positive energy, we got on the train back to Jaffa. It would have been enough for me had the event ended like that. But, I remind you – we are in an alternative universe. When we got on the train, we started looking for places to sit. We immediately spotted the empty seats beside a 40-ish year old looking man, who was also wearing the Marathon t-shirt. Intuitively, I said “hello” while the kids and I were taking our seats. Usually, communication between us would have stopped at that. But the man greeted us back, with a friendly smile on his face. He saw the medals around the children’s necks, and he asked them about it.

Of course, he was communicating with us in Hebrew, so the kids, who speak mainly Arabic and English at home, just stared back at him. Classic, normal-universe moment. “Did you run too?” George asked back, with a sudden surge of confidence. So the man told them about his own Marathon experience, and they listened attentively. Amy, who at this point was too shy to speak in Hebrew, asked George to ask the man for his name.

“Ismi (my name is) Ronen,” the man answered. “Eeee, bi7ki 3arabi!” (Eeee, he speaks Arabic!), Amy stated, and immediately asked him a follow-up question which he also answered in Arabic. At this point we were all shocked – kids and adults alike. Ignoring the likely possibility that Ronen speaks Arabic so well due to his training in the army, it was a magical moment. It was a surreal reality in which Arabic wasn’t the intimidating language of the enemy, but came as naturally as Hebrew. It was a constellation in which the responsibility to communicate rested on both sides; not only on the minority who wishes to integrate and create somewhat of a normal life for itself, but also on the majority, who seemingly has nothing to lose from remaining idle.

Here it was… an alternative universe where a Jew was managing a conversation fluently in Arabic, without feeling like he was compromising his Jewishness or Israeliness. This is what peace looks like to me. Making peace doesn’t stop at coming to an agreement. It’s an evolution from a fragile truce to a long-term reality, in which we are required to recognize each other’s narratives and immerse ourselves in the culture of the “other side.” Language is just the tip of the iceberg.

So what if…? What if the world as we know it isn’t real? What if we could build an alternative universe? YaLa 😉

Henriette Chacar,

YaLa Young Leaders

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