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The fish, the diamonds, and me, here in Canada


Here in our last 24 hours in Toronto, I am living out the mashal of the fish and the diamonds.

Maybe you've heard this mashal (parable)?  For sure, my kids have: many, many times.

In the story, a man leaves his home, somewhere normal in Europe, and sets sail to seek his fortune in some exotic island, perhaps near Africa, where it is rumoured that the streets are paved with diamonds.

He arrives at the island, and discovers that the rumours are TRUE.  Diamonds are everywhere!  He scoops them up to fill his pockets and rushes into a restaurant to order a lunch fit for a king. 

Of course, he discovers when he goes to pay with the diamonds at the end of the meal, that they are utterly worthless on the island.  What the restaurant wants in payment is... fish.  Bleakly, he wanders from store to store, discovering that the only currency anyone will accept is fish.

(Don't ask why; this is not the most realistic story, okay?)

So, okay.  The guy stashes the diamonds in his pocket and forgets about them.  He sets to work accumulating fish to pay for his expensive passage back home.  It takes years of backbreaking work, shlepping to the harbour every day over roads paved in diamonds.  Eventually, he's got enough fish saved up to buy a ship and outfit it for the journey.

Then, he waves goodbye to his new friends on the island, hops on board the ship and sets sail for home.

When he arrives back at his village, he is greeted as a hero.  "I have returned a wealthy man!" he announces. 

He then opens the hold beneath the ship and out splashes a stinking, sloshing load of... fish.  His perplexed family and friends stare at the mess on the dock and then recoil in horror.  "What have you brought us?"

"Um, fish?"

Gently, perhaps, or maybe bitterly, they assure him that his fish are utterly worthless.  What they really wanted him to bring them were diamonds.  This jogs his memory at last.  He pulls out the little sack of diamonds he pocketed on his first day on the island.

This little sack is enough to make him a wealthy man.  Yet every day, for the rest of his life, he dreams wistfully of the island’s streets, lined with diamonds, and all the wealth he could have had, if only he hadn't been so busy saving up fish.

It's a good lesson about our priorities as Jews in this world, accumulating useless STUFF instead of the priceless diamonds of Torah that we were truly sent here to collect.

But it's also how I feel here in Toronto, a place so different from Israel that it is very much like a remote island, paved with diamonds.

The diamonds here? 

Shops filled with everything - and it's cheap!  Parks filled with green grass and tall trees and farmers' markets.  People who are polite and friendly, caring and considerate to a fault.

Here, in our last 24 hours, I feel such a strong, deep, driving sense of NEED. 

I make a list of all the stops I need to get to in the next 24 hours:  Dollarama, WalMart, Value Village.  But in each one, there are only one or two things that I actually need, and those needs are themselves insignificant:  a measuring cup, a cutlery tray, breakfast cereals, ziploc bags, a packet of taco seasoning for a friend.

I know it's all fish.  I know it's worthless trying to bring it back with us to Israel.

It is not the STUFF I need, of course. 

It is all these precious people.  Here, we are rich in family.  They're a dime a dozen; I made a guest list and suddenly, 40 people turned up for supper - many of whom have known me since birth.  We're so rich.  And in the cemetery this morning, ancestors loved and never forgotten.  I can't bring them back with me either.

In Israel, we are rich in... what?  Holiness?  Judaism?  Kosher food?  Sand?  Yes and yes and yes and yes.  Precious friends, some new and some newer; none we have known longer than five years, yet already, so important in our lives.  Of course, friends can never take the place of family, but it is diamonds there, too - of a sort.

Which is the fish in this scenario?  Which is the diamonds?  The authentic Jewish life, or the family who created me, who I still want in my life every single day?

I have no clue.  Really, I don't.

I feel like some kind of (new?) colossus, feet planted firmly on two split-apart continents that will never be joined.  Continents that drift farther apart with every passing year (albeit by less than a centimetre). 

One footprint here in Canada, the other footprint there in Israel.  And an ocean of diamonds glittering in between, always just out of reach.

[fish image © Craig Tom via Wikimedia]

Tzivia / צִיבְיָה