Posted on January 25, 2014 by Josh Pernick
Back in my host family’s home after an amazing day of teaching at the Ulus School, and with a few hours to spare before Shabbat, I decided to do a little exploring around my temporary neighborhood. After putting on my coat, hat (because you can’t wear a kippah outside in Turkey, but that’s a whole different conversation) and shoes, I casually mentioned to my host’s grandmother Rica that I was going for a walk. “Where are you going?” Rica asked me in Hebrew. “Just for a walk around the neighborhood to see the stores and buy some fruit”, I replied. After Rica replied with an extended string of Ladino mixed with Hebrew that I hardly understood, I said good-bye and started to walk towards the door. “שב” commanded Rica, and within moments I was presented with a beautiful plate full of sliced oranges, apples and grapefruit. The walk around the neighborhood never happened.
There was a term that Tobias used once to describe the people that we had come across in Turkey: adamantly helpful. Now, I don’t remember if he used this phrase after a man walked a kilometer out of his way to show us how to get to the hot springs, after a man insisted on swiping his metro card for us so that we did not have to cross the tracks to buy metro tokens or after the ski instructor volunteered to show us where to get off in order to hike on Mt. Uludag; it could easily have been uttered in any of these or more occasions throughout our expedition through Turkey.
After officially parting with the Pardes group, a few of us decided to stay in Bursa, a city about three hours outside of Istanbul in which it seemed that nobody spoke a word of English. I was consistently bewildered and impressed that we were able to successfully navigate our way around a foreign city in which we were entirely unable to verbally communicate with the locals. Looking back at how we managed to arrive at all of our intended destinations, I realize that the successful completion of each step of the voyage was due to the adamant helpfulness of the people around us. Sure the people in Bursa didn’t speak any English, but that didn’t stop them from walking with us and gesturing to us where we were supposed to go. Sure, I didn’t really “need” to be driven to Starbucks when I knew that there was a Starbucks within walking distance; I also didn’t “need” Rica to make me a platter of fruit on Friday afternoon. At a certain point, however, I realized that there was no point in arguing. Once it was perceived that we were having a problem, even if we were fairly confident that we were not, in fact, having any problem, the outcome was already determined. No walk seemed too far, no inconvenience too great to prevent our friends and neighbors from helping us.
While the adamancy of their support might have been overwhelming at times, it was also incredibly powerful. I felt totally comfortable setting out into a foreign land, with people who didn’t understand my language, knowing that the people around me would be happy to help me out on my journey. Who knew that you could feel such a sense of community in a far-off land?