The rabbi, the goats and the mall in Jenin

A traditional Jewish folktale tells the story of a poor man lived with his wife and six children, parents and parents-in-law in a one-roomed house in the shtetl. He couldn’t bear it anymore and sought advice from his rabbi. “Oy, Rebbe,” he said, “my life is hell, my home is chaotic, I can’t get a moment’s peace. I’m going crazy. What should I do?”

The rabbi answered: “You must go home and do exactly what I say. Take your goats and your chickens and your cow, and move them into your house to live with you.”

Puzzled, the man agreed, because this was, the Rebbe after all. He went home and moved his livestock into his tiny, overcrowded house.

The next week, the man was back at rabbi, whining even more ferociously about how much worse off he was, and how he was suffering. “What have you done to me?” he cried. “I’m losing my mind.”

So the rabbi calmly said, “Go home and take the animals out of your house.”

The next day the man came back to the rabbi and excitedly said, “Rebbe, you are truly wise. My house is so quiet now without the animals – it’s a pleasure.”

What brought this old favorite to mind was an article in Ha’aretz this week about the opening of the luxury Hirbawi Home Center shopping mall in Jenin last month. I’ll get to the goats and chickens in a second, but first, I must express my joy at this development and hope that there’s a trickle-down effect that spreads some optimism. I know this is a lot to ask of a shopping mall, but great social changes come from modest beginnings. I also have to wonder whether there are guards at the entrances checking bags…

So back to the goats: The article continued with an analysis by Jenin Area Commander Abu Tarek of how Jenin has transformed from a capital of terrorism to “the quietest, safest city in the West Bank.” One of the factors he said has brought on this change is that the IDF has become a lot less violent. Then, the article concluded, “…one of the Palestinians present, who witnessed his brothers’ arrest recently, chuckles: ‘They’re [the IDF] very gentle nowadays. They come quietly, knock on the door and say politely: Army, please open up.’” And that, dear readers, is the story of the Rabbi and the Goats, Jenin-style.

I couldn’t help but ponder this analogy and think that everything in life is relative. I don’t want to begin to think where this attitude could take us, and I wouldn’t want to presume to justify excess violence in the name of rendering the status quo tenable, but on the other hand, maybe there is something to be said for seeing how bad things could be in order to appreciate certain realities. No, I don’t condone unnecessary military force of any kind, and no, I don’t think that occupation is a solution in our region. But that doesn’t mean I can’t allow myself a good-hearted “chuckle” at this unfortunate Palestinian gentleman assessing his situation with the delightful optimism of the shtetl dweller who learned to embrace his over-crowded house following an excessive onslaught of resident livestock.

Maybe all sides should have a quick re-read of this tale, and think again.


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