Simply stated, that means that one must give one's seat to the elderly or infirm. This can be in any place, a bus, train or waiting room. It can also be at home or at an event, or even when piling into the family car. It's important to train/educate one's child from the youngest age to be aware of others and give an older or infirm or pregnant woman the most comfortable or convenient seat. The closest term I can think of from my secular American childhood was:
"Respect Your Elders."
Israeli buses have signs by the front seats saying "מפני שיבה תקום." As I've gotten older, I've really begun to appreciate the fact that I look old enough to benefit from the fact that many Israelis, even Arab men, give me their seats.
Bus Story #1The day I took the picture at the top, a young woman immediately got up for me as I boarded the bus. But before I managed to sit down I saw a much older woman get on, so I gave her the seat and walked towards the back of the bus. The young woman who had gotten up for me looked surprised, so I told her that someone much more needy than myself was sitting there instead. By the time I finished the sentence, another young person got up and gave me her seat. Then I snapped the photo planning on telling/blogging the wonderful story.
Bus Story #2Not long ago, I got on the bus when it wasn't all that crowded and easily found a seat. In the seats just in front, which face each other, there was a young woman, most probably a teenage girl with a large suitcase. That suitcase blocked the other three seats. She may have thought that she was doing the right thing, because she sat with her back to the driver, but it was hard to get in there, so I sat in a different row. I kept thinking that if only she had taken one of the single seats, she wouldn't have been blocking anyone.
As the bus rapidly filled with passengers, two English-speaking teenage girls, dressed and coiffed like those who study for the year in religious seminaries, managed to climb over the suitcase and squeeze themselves into the seats across from her. By then the bus was packed with only a half-seat across the aisle. Then a man of my generation got on and tried to have the girl move her suitcase so he could get in. She totally ignored him, as did the other girls. He turned around and managed to squeeze himself in the smaller seat next to a heavy middle-aged woman.
A few stops later he got up to get off and said "מפני שיבה תקום" to the girls and they just gave him a blank look, even when he, in Hebrew, tried to quickly explain that they should respect their elders and have given him a seat. He got off the bus and I explained what he had been trying to say in English. The looks they gave me were so nasty. It's clear that מפני שיבה תקום, respecting the elderly and giving up bus seat were not part of their education, neither at home nor in the various schools they've attended. I told them that their behavior was a chillul Hashem, a disgrace and went against Jewish Law.
There were no apologies from those girls, just nasty looks. Derech Eretz, the Mitzvot bein adam v'chareiro, between man and his fellow man are the basis for Judaism and a healthy compassionate society.
Traveling on public transportation is a great barometer of the state of a society. I see some fantastic good most of the time, but there are those who need to learn and practice these crucial mitzvot.