Monday, December 6, 2004

Traveling by Bus or Only in Israel!

Musings #86
December 4, ‏2004
The 22th of Kislev

Traveling by Bus
Only in Israel!

We don’t have a car. There are many reasons, and there’s no point in going into them, but let that suffice as an introduction.

For quite a few years, some people think that traveling on Israeli public buses is too dangerous to do. There are foreign student programs that officially forbid the students to take Israeli public transportation, convinced that terror attacks on buses are daily events. Terror attacks make the headlines, but statistically you’re safer on the bus than in a private car. Accidents happen everyday.

There are advantages to traveling on a bus that can neither be matched nor measured. Just the other week, I saw something special. A young woman who could have been between sixteen and twenty-five was writing in the hand of the old woman next to her. They were sitting across from me, so I couldn’t help but observe. At first they seemed to be playing a game, like my friends and I did at some point in our childhood, probably when “The Miracle Worker” first came out. Then I noticed the additional responses of the old woman; she gestured and made sounds or spoke, but the girl only wrote in her hand. The stranger sitting besides me had noticed, too, and me asked what they could be doing. My guess was that the old woman had once been able to see and hear, but now she’s without those senses, and we had been observing a loving conversation between a grandmother and granddaughter.

Another different, only by bus event, was last Thursday. After finishing teaching in Beit El, I was in a rush to get to Jerusalem. (See The bus/’tremp” stop is usually packed with students rushing to get home on Thursday afternoons, and last week was no exception. No bus was scheduled, and I was trying hard to memorize faces, never my strong point (I always lose memory games), to make sure no one got ahead of me on line. Then suddenly an empty Egged (public) bus pulled up.

Sprightly, for an old timer, I got in and asked where he was going. “Jerusalem, I was supposed to be finished for the day, but I got an emergency call from my boss that there are a lot of soldiers in the Beit El army base who need to get home, so I was asked to do one more run.” Then he drove us around the bases picking up soldiers, frequently driving up to them as they were shlepping their heavy bags to the official bus stops. He mentioned that it reminded him of the days he drove a school bus and made every effort to find the young children so they would get to school on time. I told him that this is the same thing; these are young children, too. And they were. Later, he opened the door for me when we stopped at a red light just outside of the Jerusalem bus station to save me time. (Please don’t let this get to Egged management or the traffic police! He could get into trouble.)

Every once in a while when I’m walking in Jerusalem, suddenly I hear a bus insistently honking. Then I realize that I’m the target, though I’m safely and properly on the sidewalk. I take a look and see the driver waving and smiling, one of the regulars on the Shiloh route. Yes, they think of us passengers as friends.

A few years ago, before I became an English teacher, I sold bagels (maybe someday I’ll tell you about it). The bakery/office/main restaurant was on Jaffa Road near the central bus station. My workday ended just before a bus home, and in those days the bus passed The Bagel House a minute after pulling out. A couple of days after starting the job, I left late but managed to hail the bus, picture it—or maybe you had better not—as it traveled on busy Jaffa Road. The driver was nice and stopped for me. I told him about my job and its location, and then the driver offered to pick me up everyday as he passed the shop. So for the six months I worked there I was given limousine service from work to my front door in Shiloh in the biggest limo you’ve ever seen.

Believe me, I’m not the only one who benefits from the kindness of Egged bus drivers. One of the most touching things I’ve ever observed was on the 13 bus when I used to travel it a couple of times a week to tutor a young woman who was severely injured in a terror attack and then miraculously recovered and wanted to resume her education. But this isn’t about her. It’s about another regular passenger on the 13 bus, a woman who very obviously suffered from a serious neurological and/or psychiatric disorder. It didn’t matter who the driver was, but all the drivers I encountered when she was a passenger treated her with full respect. They conversed with her and cared for her and made sure she was comfortable and arrived safely to wherever she was going. It was a beautiful lesson in chesed, kindness, giving. I learned a lot watching them, and I always left the bus feeling better about the world.

“Do not despise any man, and do not dismiss anything; for there is not a man who has not his hour; and there is not a thing that has not its place.”
Pirkei Avot, Ethics of The Fathers, Chapter 4, Mishne 3

Batya Medad


thanbo said...

Last time I visited Israel (2002), my cousin in Har Nof said that he avoided buses as much as possible, but still took them to work. His best friend from back home, who had made aliya before he did, had survived a bus attack during the first intifada.

Two things about the buses:

1) Mipnei Seivah Taqum (Rise before the hoary head; sign on Israeli buses) - only in Israel do you find a Biblical verse reminding one to give one's seat to the elderly.

2) We were on a bus in T-A going to the Diaspora Museum, slowly moving up Ibn Gvirol (the bridges were slow, they were inspecting vehicles). It was the day after the attack in Meah Shearim on people going to a bat-mitzvah motza'ei shabbat. The radio announcer started listing the names of the victims. The driver turned up the volume. The bus fell silent, aside from the radio voice. You could see people all up & down the aisle sobbing, putting their heads down, deeply affected. At that point we realized, Israel is not just a country, it's a family. We are all affected by our cousins' deaths, even if we didn't know them personally.

Juggling Frogs said...

Hello Batya,

I found your blog from your signature line in a post to JewishHomemaking.

This was such a beautiful article! We have fond memories of Egged bus rides on our visits to Israel. Mi K'amcha Yisroel?

May there only be this type of bus experience for all the riders.

Have an easy fast.

All the best,