The Fabric of Friendship

Had you been in Jerusalem last week, you might have seen me sprinting down the street in pursuit of a total stranger. Or, you might have caught me approaching a young Israeli couple at a restaurant and asking them if they had ever spent any time in China. What was going on?

It all started when my husband and I split up for the day. I went to the city of Efrat to spend time with an aunt and uncle and one of my cousins. My husband went to Tel Aviv to meet some Chinese Christian friends with whom we are collaborating on a publishing venture and who were visiting Israel. While I love seeing my family, I was sorry to miss out on what promised to be a fascinating and memorable meeting.

That evening, my husband and I met up once we were both back in Jerusalem. He brought with him two beautiful gifts that our friends had planned to present to me.  One was a lovely blue silk scarf.  If you watch our TV show, you know that I love scarves and have fun tying them in a variety of ways. I especially love relating my scarves to experiences. “I bought this scarf in the shuk (market) in Jerusalem,” or “I found this scarf on Saltspring Island.” Now I can add, “This scarf is a gift from very special Chinese friends who cling to their faith in spite of challenging circumstances.”

The second piece of fabric was not only exquisite but it was also in my favorite shade of purple. Unwrapping it, I realized that it wasn’t a scarf. Here is where I begin to explain my Jerusalem pursuit of strangers.  While it was gorgeous, I had never seen any garment quite like it. I actually couldn’t figure out how to wear or use it.. I wanted to write a thank you note, but didn’t quite know how to word my gratitude. “Thank you for the beautiul______,” or, “I am looking forward to using my lovely _____.” Clearly, I needed more information.

Naturally, I turned to Google and when that failed, I resorted to our family What’s App chat group. Though Google is usually a goldmine of information and my daughters can nearly always be counted upon for lively opinions as well as wide knowledge, neither yielded anything remotely useful.

That’s when I realized that Jerusalem attracts vast throngs of tourists, many of whom are from China. In addition to that, Israelis are travelers. Living in a small country, surrounded for the most part by neighbors who do not welcome them as tourists, Israelis love flying around the world. A multi-month trip to Asia upon finishing army service is relatively routine. We know several Israeli families whose children have spent months in China establishing business relationships. Surely, the streets of Jerusalem would yield someone who could explain my gift’s functionality to me.

I began carrying a bag with the lovely fabric wherever I went. Dinner at one restaurant was delicious, but despite our waitress quizzing all the staff, not one of them had been to China. As we drank our morning coffee in a quirky small cafe, I began going up to tables and asking, “Did you used to do business in China?” I circumvented the response, “Oh, do you think you recognize me?” I had no takers.

Walking down the street, I scanned the crowd looking for an Asian face. After running after and cornering a woman from Nepal who apologized for not being able to help, I spotted a friendly face across the road. After approaching so many strangers, a Chinese friend who converted to Judaism and immigrated to Israel many years ago came into view. She was speedily rushing down the street on the other side of a busy thoroughfare, going in the opposite direction from me. I hitched up my dress, navigated past buses, taxis and cars, and darted after her.

Mission accomplished! She showed me how to manipulate my very attractive new shawl. It seemed so logical and easy as she casually folded and draped the fabric. To the relief of Israelis and tourists going about their way, I have packed the shawl away, looking forward to wearing it.

8 thoughts on “The Fabric of Friendship”

  1. I worked in a fabric store for several years. In some ways it was therapy. When new fabric came in, the bolts would need to be tightened and straightened. Just touching it and smoothing it out on the cutting tables was such sweet, delicious fun. I agree that you need to show us a picture of this fascinating piece of fabric in the future!

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Lynn-
      there is sensual pleasure in the tangible and enjoying it is part of God’s goodness. I used to enjoy spending a couple of hours a week in a posture of prayer on my knees, cleaning and oiling the teak decks on my boat.

  2. What a delightful tale. We are curious beings. We want to “know” but often don’t expend the energy to find the answer. We are also lazy beings and miss the chance to know and be known. You, Susan, are an unusual being, you rush at life and are known as a seeker. A seeker of knowledge, a seeker of compassion, and a seeker of those who are fellow adventurers. Love the story.

  3. Susan,
    I really enjoyed reading this story. You caught my attention at the mention of fabric; as I love to sew and knit. It would be a fun show-and-tell item to share on the Ancient Jewish Wisdom show. Did you learn the name of the shawl? What a sweet gift to receive.
    Kind regards,
    Paige Fritsche

    1. Fabric stores are almost as much fun as book stores! I don’t know the name of the shawl but it is truly stunning.

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