Yom Asal; Yom Basal
(“Day of Honey, Day of Onions”)
I’ve been in the Holy Land for a month’s visit. This was my first trip back to Israel, since we moved home to America, two years ago. Returning to Israel brought back a flood of memories from the three years we lived amongst the two main communities, the Arabs and the Israelis, who inhabit this beautiful, yet complicated, land.
For the first seven months of our new life in Israel we lived in my husband’s childhood house where he grew up, in the oldest part of the “medinah” of Baqa Al-Gharbiyyah (“bouquet of the west”), a traditional Arab Muslim town. Baqa is situated in the center of Israel, in a rural farming area, on the border of the West Bank.
The massive concrete separation wall, that the Israelis built about 15 years ago, divides Baqa Al- Gharbiyyah, which is in Israel, from the town of Baqa Al Sharqiyyah (“bouquet of the east”), which sits on the other side of the “green line”, in the West Bank. Before the wall was built, the farmers of the West Bank, who lived in Baqa Al Sharqiyyah, and whose small family farms surrounded the town, would bring their agricultural produce to sell in a bustling market on the border, between Baqa Al Sharqiyyah and Baqa Al Gharbiyya.
Life was quite hard for these farmers of the West Bank before the wall was built. But after the wall went up, Baqa Al Sharqiyya was completely sealed off from Baqa Al Gharbiyya and other towns of Israel. Without access to their former markets, these small farmers of the West Bank became totally destitute. With the construction of the dividing wall, these small farmers and their families’ lives had been suddenly changed by circumstances out of their control. They would struggle to accept this harsh new reality, and find a new way forward, through the grace of God.
Many, I believe, must have grown even closer to God, and come to trust Him more than ever before. And, like Job, many of these good and faithful people, would still bless God for His continued loving providence.
My move to Israel in 2008 followed some very grave, sudden, and unexpected, life trials for me. One of the struggles I faced was my diagnosis of breast cancer in 2007. I underwent six months of treatments, which included surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, which would be followed by five more years of cancer medications and other interventions. The cancer was very insignificant in comparison to some other grave moral injustices I had been made to suffer, and other emotional traumas I had to face at that same time. Like the West Bank farmers, I, too, would have to struggle to accept the things that had happened to me, learn to embrace my crosses, and allow them to be the means the Lord would use, to deepen my faith and trust in Him.
I knew, with certitude, from the teachings of my Catholic faith, that through these painful life events the good Lord was giving me opportunities to grow in mercy and forgiveness, self-less love, patient perseverance, and fortitude. In faith, I believed our Lord would give me all the grace I needed, to face these sufferings and be victorious through them, by His power and strength. It was up to me to abandon myself to Him, and, in trust, let Jesus lead me forward on the way of the cross.
“…not by might, and not by power, but by my Spirit”, says the LORD of hosts. (Zechariah 4:6)
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:13)
While my mind assented to this truth, my heart was filled with sadness and emotional distress. These words of scripture were true for me.
For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death.
But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead (2 Corinthians 1: 8-9.)
After moving to Israel, I took a short course in Arabic. During one of our classes, Mohammed, my teacher, shared with me an Arab proverb, “Yom asal; yom basal,” which translated means, “one day honey; one day onions.” While I did not remember much of the Arabic he taught me, that phrase stuck in my memory. I understood it was an expression of life itself.
While my husband went to work each day in a suburb of Tel Aviv, and my daughters went to their American International School near Netanya, a Jewish town located at quite a distance from the Arab village of Baqa, I was left alone in my husband’s childhood house, to start a new life amongst a very different cultural and religious community; and this, on the heels of the painful experiences that had occurred in my life in America, right before we moved. I felt very isolated and extremely lonely in that new place. My heart was heavy with sorrow and anguish from the prior traumatic events. I could feel the cloud of depression hovering over my soul.
One day, many months after we moved to Baqa, I left our house to take a walk with Jesus, in order to be comforted by Him. The sun was bright in the sky. It was high noon and quite a hot day. I yearned for Jesus to still the storms in my soul, and shine the light of His love, into my broken heart.
Someone in the village had told me of a “good walking trail”, not far from Baqa, along the edge of an Israeli farm field. I had tried to walk during the day in the town, but I was too much of a curiosity for the villagers. Muslim women in Baqa do not dress in western clothing and “walk” through the streets of the town in the middle of the day. So, I found my way by car to the “good walking trail”, which, as it turned out, was just a dirt road used by the Israeli farmers to drive their tractors between the crops.
I parked my car near the highway and began walking along the red dirt tractor trail of the farm. I was all alone with Jesus. I lifted my heart, and began to open myself to the Lord’s peace and healing, which I needed so desperately, and for which I thirsted in all my weakness.
Just like a deer that craves streams of water, my whole being craves you, God. (Psalm 42:1)
I walked in silent contemplation for quite some time on the dirt road. Then, the Lord drew my attention to a solitary woman, sitting in the middle of the farm field. She was fully covered from head to toe in a long garment, which I could not distinguish. It had long sleeves to shield her from the intense rays of the burning sun. She wore a wide brimmed straw hat. Was she one of the Asian migrant farm workers so common in Israel? Could she perhaps be a destitute Palestinian from the West Bank? I could not know. Her back was deeply bowed, with her face bent down towards the dirt, as she sat in between the rows, picking the farm’s produce. I looked to see what crop was being grown there, and I was amazed to discover, that it was an onion field!
There were no other workers with her. She was all alone in the vast field of onions. She did not look up at me. She continued slowly and steadily to pick the onions one by one and put them in baskets. It was lonely, back- breaking work, under the fierce Israeli sun.
I slowed down my pace, as the Lord allowed this remarkable scene to penetrate deeply into my heart. Tears welled up in my eyes in compassion for my “neighbor”, as I watched her out there all alone in the vast onion field, laboring under the blazing sun far from her home – wherever her home might have been – to eke out a living to support herself, or perhaps, her family, in a far-off land. My tears also flowed from a sense of shame, as the Holy Spirit helped me to see clearly, that I had been wallowing in self-pity over my own little “onions” of life.
I had so quickly forgotten, and so easily taken for granted, the many, many, sweet days of honey, that our most merciful and loving Lord had lavished on me all through my life. Even now, during this time of suffering and testing of my faith, Jesus was sweetly present, helping me to carry my little splinter of His Cross. I was filled with profound gratitude and immense love for Jesus in that moment, as I reflected on the infinite number of spiritual graces and material blessings that He had showered on me since my conception.
Yes, Jesus has always been with us. He will always remain with us, through our good days and our bad days – through easy and happy times and hard and painful times – through our “days of honey and days of onions.” By His love, mercy, and saving power, our Lord brings us through the vast onion field of this present life, to share in the sweetness of His eternal glory, where days of honey continue without end.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? (Romans 8:35)
For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! (2nd Corinthians 4:17)