My friend Nessya lives in the Katamonim neighborhood, on one of the long residential streets that winds its way slowly down south to Malcha. It is a poor section of Jerusalem, but a warm and friendly place to live – most people know each other by sight and greet one another by name, and on Shabbat afternoon they sit on their porches and talk in large groups until after the sun goes down.
Nessya is a Persian woman in her mid-sixties who came to Israel as a young girl. When she walks down her street, everyone knows who she is, and everyone stops to say hi — not because of anything she has accomplished, but because of who she is. Nessya regards this as a tremendous kindness because she is blind, and as she tells me, “People can walk right by me without my noticing. But they still stop to say hi. Such good people!” One day we meet her neighbor Batshie (short for Batsheva), who stops to give Nessya a big hug. “So, what is new with Efrat,” Nessya asks – she knows the name of Batshie’s daughter who has been trying to have a baby for several months, and is eager to hear a good report. “Soon, soon,” Batshie tells her, and Nessya responds with a blessing: “May it be God’s will, please God, please God.”
Nessya is one of the most devout people I know, and not just because she invokes God’s name in nearly every sentence. She also knows how to see God’s hand at work in the world. “It is a miracle,” she told me on the day the bus stop was returned. That stop had been outside her home for years and years, which was the main reason that she was able to get to work each morning. She had taught herself to walk the twenty-five steps from her apartment to the bus stop: down seven stairs to the ground floor, straight ahead four steps on the stone porch leading up to the building, down three steps to the curb, right three steps to the crosswalk, and eight steps across the street right into the embracing glass walls of the bus stop. When the bus stop was moved three blocks down, she could no longer go to work: how would she ever find her way alone? Her neighbors marshaled behind her, petitioning the municipality and carrying posters with her picture. The stop was returned, and thus Nessya could go back to her normal schedule. “I have yet another reason to thank God,” she told me.
But this was not the end of her transportation troubles. A few months ago, construction of the light rail began on Jaffa Street, which is the main road that Nessya takes to work. Because of the construction, bus routes were changed, and what was once one bus between Nessya’s home and her office is now three buses. “Three buses!” she told me in a panic. “That means that three times I have to wait at the bus stop and hope that there is someone else there who can tell me which bus is approaching. Three times I need to make my way onto the bus and find a place to sit, and then find someone who will tell me when we get to my stop and help me off. Do you know how many angels I need to meet in a single morning in order to get to work?”
Fortunately, Nessya met one angel who eliminated the need for any others. Her neighbor Yigal noticed her at the bus stop one morning and offered to give her a ride. Yigal is a tax driver who needs to clock in at the taxi stand in Geula, where Nessya works, each morning at 7am. He insisted that Nessya get in his car, and has been travelling with her for three consecutive days now, happy to be able to help. “I prayed to God to help me solve the problem of how to get to work, and look what happened! God sent Yigal to redeem me.”
With the start of Kislev, the month that culminates in Chanukah, I find myself thinking about miracles and light and what it means to be saved. I think of Nessya, whose name means “miracle of God.” Though she is poor, she thinks only of her good fortune; though she is blind, she manages, somehow, to always find the light.