We pulled into the ’50s Diner in Dwight, Illinois (population: 4,300) and a smiling man called out a sing-song “Hello!”
“Table for six, please.”
He ushered us to the corner booth, and my family flowed into the red vinyl seats, hungry, happy, eager from the four-hour drive we’d just completed, halfway from vacation to home.
Asher was wearing his blue Cub Scouts T-shirt and because he is part of a Jewish troop, there was Hebrew on the back. The man walked to our table.
“I like your shirt,” he said to Asher. “Especially the back.”
Asher turned around.
“Tsofim,” the man read the Hebrew word and smiled.
My preconceptions that there would be no Jews in small town Illinois and better yet, that small town folks might assume we have horns and hate us for no reason were immediately dispelled.
“You know Hebrew?” I asked the man.
He nodded. “I’m from Jordan. I studied for two years in Tel Aviv, to get my master’s in Hebrew language. Then I came to America.”
He met his fiancé in Chicago. She teaches Spanish and grew up in Dwight. They moved back to settle in her hometown. He speaks four or five languages. His smile was like the sun.
Peace in the Middle East? Don’t think so big-scale. It comes from one-on-one, person-to-person interactions like this one. Boy was he nice. There were no barriers to connection. Our assumptions fell away.
Meeting this man restored my faith in humanity. We can make friends in the least likely of places. The world really does rotate on peace-love-harmony, not opposition and war.
In the ’50s Diner, my kids laughed and got along. For that moment, all was well. Or maybe, it always is.